In August I had the opportunity to hear Michael Yudin, Assistant Secretary for the United States Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) speak at the PACER center, my local Parent Training and Education Center (PTI).
I learned a lot. Like about Parent Training and Information centers. I knew that the PACER center where I live serves as a resource for children with disabilities and their families for free advocacy, access to assistive technology, workshops, social opportunities, publications, and bullying prevention. I did not know that there is at least one such program in each state, with 104 sites throughout the U.S. funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Services. For more information, please visit the Parent Technical Assistance Center Network website.
Assistant Secretary Yudin addressed the work the U.S. Department of Education has done with regard to bullying prevention, identifying it as a priority area. It is recognized that bullying impacts academics, relationships, mental health, and physical health. If a student with a disability is bullied and experiences a loss of educational benefits as a result, this is considered a denial of Free and Appropriate Public Education the child is entitled to under the law, and must be addressed by the educational team. For more information on how we can promote supportive schools and communities, visit StopBullying.gov.
The key factors Assistant Secretary Yudin identified in future success of students with disabilities are:
“Start with expectations!” is circled in my notes. Three times. Students with disabilities have better outcomes with high expectations, high standards, and access to the regular curriculum. We need to have the long range view and goal of students with disabilities being part of their communities and leading the most independent lives possible. It begins with the provision of high quality Early Intervention services. President Obama has also proposed a plan for universal preschool for all four-year-olds. Individualized Education Plans have to be aimed toward set college and career-ready graduation standards, which all states are in the process of determining. Keeping transition in mind is essential because at present, people with disabilities are less likely to graduate, more likely to earn less, and three times more likely to live in poverty.
Assistant Secretary Yudin cited the case Brown v. Board of Education, in which it was determined that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”. 60% of children with disabilities spend 80% or more of their school day in a regular classroom. Students with disabilities are disproportionately excluded from learning situations with their peers. As is the problem in many organizations, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services has been collecting data but has not yet completed serious analysis to determine outcomes in this area, which will be the next step.
School districts and state departments of education all over the U.S. are comparing levels of academic achievement between different demographic groups and looking for strategies to close those achievement gaps. The largest gap is present when comparing the group of students with disabilities to students without disabilities. 41 states and the District of Columbia have plans in place to work toward equalizing achievement. The federal government is investing in turnaround for the lowest performing schools. A national shift toward using Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), Response to Intervention (RTI), and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) should keep more students in classrooms with the support they need.
Assistant secretary Yudin repeatedly extolled the value of partnership between schools, families, community organizations, and federal agencies for leveraging resources, driving reform, forging relationships, and achieving the best possible outcomes for all students.