Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Debate Interesting - No Positions on Special Education

Well the big education policy advisor debate is over. Last night a debate occurred between Lisa Graham Keegan, education advisor to Republican nominee John McCain and Linda Darling-Hammond, education advisor to Democratic nominee Barack Obama, at the Teachers College at Columbia University.

I was deeply involved with reality tv at the time, but I watched the debate and the post-debate analysis today. It was very interesting from a policy standpoint, but there was no direct mention of special education, and sadly no new information on the candidates positions on this key issue. For those of you who don't regularly follow this blog, I have been hounding the Democrat and Republican to answer ten basic questions, compiled by me with help from the readers of this blog, about special education law and policy- without success. The details are set forth in previous posts, but I will repeat the ten questions at the end of this post.

The debate featured lots of skating around No Child Left Behind. This isn't surprising given the mood of the country. The Hoover Institution poll showed roughly equal support for keeping NCLB as it is, keeping it with minor changes, keeping it with drastic changes, and scrapping it. Given the lack of agreement, I find it understandable that the candidates are not tackling it too directly. Indeed, education is taking a back seat given the economy, the war, etc. One pretty clear difference is that McCain seems to like standardized testing whereas Obama prefers multiple measures and better tests.

One area very close to special education is Early Childhood Education. In this area Obama favors more money as an investment. I didn't sense that McCain would spend more, but I didn't otherwise hear a position on Early Childhood from his advisor.

You can register and view the debate and the post-debate analysis here:

Here is our list of ten, so far, unanswered questions:

1. Please state your position regarding "full" funding of the individuals with Disabilities Education Act, "IDEA." School districts were originally promised federal funds in the amount of 40% of special ed costs when the predecessor to IDEA passed. IDEA funding is now less than 17%. Many people involved in education feel that it is the largest unfunded mandate. If you are elected, at what level will your first recommended budget fund special education? Please explain how you will pay for any increases in funding.

2. What is you position concerning the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, "NCLB" and IDEA.

3. What is you position concerning the reauthorization of IDEA.

4. In 1982, the U. S. Supreme Court decided the case of Board of Education of Hendrick Hudson Bd. of Ed. v. Rowley 455 U.S. 175, 102 S.Ct. 3034, 553 IDELR 656 (1982). In that seminal case, the high court set the standard for the majority of special education cases by defining what a school district must do in order to provide a free and appropriate public education ("FAPE). Would you as President seek any changes in the Rowley standard?

5. Would you as President seek any legislative changes to reverse or modify the decisions by the Supreme Court in recent cases, including Schaffer v. Weast 546 U.S. 49, 126 S.Ct. 528, 44 IDELR 150 (2005); Arlington Cent. Sch. Dist Bd. of Educ v. Murphy 548 U.S. 291, 126 S.Ct. 2455, 45 IDELR 267 (6/16/06); or Winkelman by Winkelman v. Parma City Sch. Dist 550 U.S.____, 127 S.Ct 1994, 47 IDELR 281 (5/21/2007) .

6. Would you support any changes in the provisions regarding the awarding of attorney's fees in special education cases?

7. In general, would you likely support the positions of parents or school districts in cases alleging a violation of the special education laws?

8. What are your feelings about the Response to Intervention evaluation process? Should it be expanded beyond eligibility for specific learning disabilities?

9. Concerning NCLB, what are your thoughts concerning the principles of accountability and school sanctions. Would you propose any changes to the exceptions for students with severe cognitive disabilities or other students with disabilities for purposes of assessment?

10. What should be the role of the Office of Special Education of the federal Department of Education in interpreting and in enforcing the special education laws?


  1. I think we should reauthorize NCLB. I think it is important to give our special needs students all the support and help that we can.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts Carlyn.