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Ed. Dept. Leaders Say Special Education Offers Lessons for All

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, along with federal leaders who oversee special education, told a conference of special education leaders and parents of students with disabilities that their experiences can help guide a number of national initiatives, including expanded preschool and preparing students for college and work.

The audience was gathered here for the yearly IDEA Leadership Conference. Duncan, repeating the administration's focus on creating a $75 billion federal investment in state-run preschool, said that preschool can help reduce the number of students enrolled in special education.

"The [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] has a long and successful history of insuring that infants and toddlers have access to high-quality preschool," Duncan said. (The IDEA does this through Part C of the law, which provides for early intervention services for babies and toddlers, and Section 619, which provides funding for children ages 3 to 5.)

The preschool expansion, if approved by Congress, would result in many more inclusive programs for students, Duncan told the group. "As we all know, high-quality preschool will mean fewer children will be placed in special education in the first place, as they enter kindergarten with their academic and social skills intact," he said.

The administration's efforts to promote individualized instruction for students focuses on something that has been a cornerstone of the IDEA for decades, said Michael Yudin, the acting assistant secretary for the office of special education and rehabilitative services.

"We know how to do this. You know how to do this," Yudin told the group. The move toward granting states waivers from some provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act provided a boost to students with disabilities because "we actually required every state to demonstrate, 'What is your plan for insuring that kids with disabilities are going to get access to these college-and-career standards?'" Yudin said. Some of the first plans presented "weren't good enough," and states were required to go back and develop better ones, he said.

"There's so much energy, so much movement, so much resources being poured into how to implement college-and-career standards," Yudin said. "There's so much we can learn from the work that you're doing, there's so much value to add to the conversation."

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