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D.C. Will Spend $800,000 for 'Road Map' to High-Quality Special Ed.

District of Columbia Public Schools, which has a checkered track record on serving students with disabilities, is taking an unusual step to try to reset its course.

Using $800,000 in money it got from the federal Race to the Top competition, the district is hiring the American Institutes of Research to study how students with disabilities are served in public and private schools in the district, identify best practices, and figure out what strategies and approaches can be scaled up in district schools. The hope, the district says, is to "create a common understanding of program quality among District stakeholders and a road map for expanding high-quality special education options for students."

AIR should be handing in a report by next January, the state superintendent's office in D.C. tells me.

Most of the states that won Race to the Top money didn't put a particular emphasis on special education in their proposals to the federal Department of Education—although presumably states' plans to improve education statewide would naturally advance things for students with disabilities, too. Over the four years D.C. gets to spend its $75 million in RTTT money, the district has set aside about $7.7 million on contracts.

Although the AIR contract is just a sliver of all that money, it's a big contract with a tall order and a short time span. The contract with AIR will entail talking with parents, educators, students, therapists, and the body that oversees D.C. charter schools.

D.C. has been dragged to court over special education services and has tried to be innovative. Outsiders have been brought in to try to improve efficiency. And students have been sent to private schools and programs to best meet their needs.

I'm quite sure many people will be very curious to see what the researchers and the district come up with. What suggestions do you have?

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