Here's an Opportunity for Texans to Help Reform a System That Has Shortchanged Youngsters for Years.

For more than a decade, the number of Texas children identified as needing special education services declined - even though total school enrollment grew by more than 1 million students.The decline wasn’t a demographic fluke. Federal monitors found that enrollment dropped because school districts avoided or delayed identifying children who might need special services. The districts’ motivation, according to disability rights activists and federal monitors, was an artificial cap on special education enrollment. Districts that exceeded an 8.5 percent enrollment target would draw extra scrutiny from the Texas Education Agency.Last year, lawmakers barred the use of special education enrollment as a performance measure. But simply removing the enrollment cap won’t make schools better for students with disabilities and their families.Through their visits to Texas, and from abundant public comments, federal monitors discovered a very confused and confusing special education system. Neither parents nor teachers nor administrators consistently understood that students who may have disabilities have a right to an evaluation even if they already receive educational supports through another program. Timelines and triggers were inconsistent within and among districts.The monitors’ letter ordered the TEA to improve its supervision of school districts. It also required the TEA to ensure that each district identifies students who should have been referred for evaluations and reviews whether they need additional services.TEA Commissioner Mike Morath responded to the letter with an admirable lack of whining. The agency quickly developed a draft corrective action plan that stresses extensive, ongoing feedback from all stakeholders. It also requires strong outreach to parents, increased staffing and site visits, improved training for educators and the creation of escalation teams to work with districts with the most severe needs. The plan has a price tag of about $84.5 million over five years.Released last week, the plan is a good rough draft. Improving it will require thoughtful comments from parents, students, educators, administrators, advocacy groups and others. It needs more details about how districts will locate overlooked students, and the types of training teachers will receive. But it’s a real opportunity for Texans to help reform a system that has shortchanged youngsters for years.How to be heardThe TEA’s draft corrective action plan is available here: The same site includes information about providing feedback on the plan, as well as a place for organizations that work with students with disabilities to register for updates.What's your view?Got an opinion about this issue? Send a letter to the editor, and you just might get published.  Continue reading...

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