From guest blogger Lesli A. Maxwell
In a meeting on Wednesday with President Obama's top advisers on disability issues and special education, a select group of parents, teachers and advocates sought assurances that students with disabilities won't lose hard-fought ground for high academic expectations and access to challenging curricula as the Obama administration grants states waivers from provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act.
Parents and advocates involved with the National Center for Learning Disabilities and the Council for Exceptional Children were invited to the White House to hear what the administration is focusing on when it comes to disability and special education policy and to provide their input.
Kareem Dale, special assistant to the president on disability policy; Alexa Posny, the assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services in the U.S. Department of Education; and Melody Musgrove, the director of the office of special education programs in the Education Department, met with the group for more than an hour, according to several parents and advocates who participated.
"This was the administration's opportunity to share what they are doing and what they are working on," said Hilary Cole, the mother of three sons with dyslexia who is involved with NCLD. "We have many concerns about the state waivers and whether those could open the door to lower expectations for special education students. Our main message to them was that we need to make sure these students are given what they need to go on and be college- and career-ready, to be successful in the work force. We need to make sure people don't quit on these kids."
The officials spent a great deal of time talking about the President's budget proposal for fiscal year 2013, said Steve Kukic, an NCLD board member. Parents and advocates expressed their disappointment that the budget would spend less on preparing education personnel to work with special education students, an issue that is of primary concern for the groups, Kukic said.
Another highlights of the meeting was Posny describing a strategy she is pursuing within the Education Department to spread responsibility for special education programs across the agency. She also talked about five "game-changers" that will be part of that strategy, according to the parents and advocates I spoke to:
• Aligning early childhood services and K-12 services for students with disabilities;
• Developing policies that would push all teachers to be prepared and trained to work with students with disabilities;
• Providing access to differentiated instruction and effective interventions to all students with disabilities;
• Including all students in assessments by making the assessments fully accessible; and
• Providing more transition planning for students moving into post-secondary and career opportunities.
Parent Esther Falcetta was heartened to hear Musgrove speak about the need for more comprehensive transition planning for special education students.
And parents and advocates said a couple of special education teachers had the chance to air their concerns about teacher evaluations. Among those: how they will be held accountable for the performance of their students, especially when they often share with their general education teaching peers the responsibility of educating students with disabilities.
"Our position has been that the whole system has to be accountable for these students," said Kukic. "It's not the sole responsibility of special education teachers or general education teachers."