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Over the years I have been a Special Education teacher, I have always been concerned about what I see as an important issue that we in Special Education and those that are advocates for children with disabilities will have to face someday.


Unfortunately, the attitude against educating students with disabilities is becoming more vocal and being said beyond private conversations or when you catch people in their “cups”.

The idea that a Free and Appropriate Education alias FAPE is anathema to many people that I talk with outside of education and even some in education is concerning to me.  With the forthcoming re-authorization of IDEA/NCLB coming up, how will this attitude affect changes to the laws that are in presently in place to protect and support our students.

Below are some of the major points that I have heard used when discussing educating students with disabilities:

Cost:  “They” always discuss how much more it costs to educate students with disabilities, who are “never” going to be anything more than a drain on the welfare system or at best minor contributors to the tax base in their communities. Why are local school districts and local taxpayers supposed to pay for educating these kids when their parents are already receiving Social Security because they are disabled and don’t learn that much anyways?  “They” discuss how there is a very poor Return On Investment or ROI when it comes to educating “those” children.  I get to hear about how we should be focusing improving educational opportunities for the top 20% and stop worrying so much about the bottom 20% who “won’t amount to anything anyways”.

Teaching Strategies:  That Special Education teachers are not really teachers.  That we are more Case Managers who do “stuff” in the classrooms to keep “those” kids quiet and out of sight whenever possible.  Those dumb kids always make it so we don’t meet AYP.  Special Education kids – if they would only work harder and be more interested in school, they would do a lot better.  We let them play games all the time, our educational strategies are not overly rigorous compared to “real” teachers.  Special education children are forced to be allowed in regular education classes and all to often disrupt the classroom so much that “real” students can’t learn and so on.

Sometimes I think that we in special education and children’s advocacy tend to purposely insulate ourselves from hearing or reading about what others are actually saying.  We often act surprised and angry when we finally actually hear or read these things. It frightens me more that these opinions are being made by people, other than the usual ones that historically disagreed with Special Education and that it is becoming more mainstream and acceptable to publicly state these opinions.  I am all for the Right of Free Speech, but the increasing amount of rhetoric is concerning.

Like many of you reading this blog, I have vigorously defended both my profession and my students in these conversations, but these discussions with others are becoming less conversations and more attacks directed at Special Education programs and students.  It is time to take our heads out of the sand and see/hear and listen to what is actually going on around us?

As education budgets shrink in light of the political changes taking place and as Special Education budgets continue to increase to meet Court Mandates, I foresee a significant increased backlash against Special Education programs and students.  Do you?

Am I being hypersensitive or are others beginning to see this backlash against Special Education Programs and our students?



  1. Are you being hypersensitive? No. Will there be a backlash against students with disabilities? In the new political era we entered with yesterday's election results, Absolutely. My advice to you, other special educators, therapists, and parents of children with disabilities: be prepared to become political if you are not already and to man the barricades.


  2. Hi Harold,Great Post. I definitely share some of your thoughts on Special Education Backlash, in fact I have been on the receiving end as a parent. Thirteen years ago, when my son was diagnosed with Autism, I asked my district to fund an in-home ABA program, since there were no ABA programs at all in my state. The district, of course, fought me tooth and nail, after all, I was threatening to set precedent. During that time, I met with many parents, with advocacy groups, and even with the school board; I even became a member of the Colorado Department of Education Task force on Autism (I eventually resigned in loud protest when a fellow member of the task force – an academic pushing his own autism program – testified against me in court). Suffice it to say, the issue was most real already 13 years ago, and it is alive and well today. Both the cost issue and the program issue were repeatedly raised to discredit the integrity of my program for my son, which is a joke, considering mine was purely data driven and scientifically supported on both fronts, and the district had no data at all. So, I hear you, loud and clear.I also think that “Spedlash” is actually symptomatic of several more systemic issues. For instance, it would not surprise me to find out that there is an inverse relationship between spedlash and the economy – especially in areas with high tax bases, where college achievement structures, tuitions, and acceptance criteria are steadily increasing, such as areas in the Northeast. It would not surprise me that special education, which indeed does consume a disproportionate cost structure, gets attention for ROI issues in a media-driven world of immediate gratification and profit obsession – again, often coupled to socio-economic enclaves. Most importantly, though, I think the issue you raise is one of education. More specifically, our collective failure as special educators to sufficiently explain and teach our “general education” counterparts about what we do, about how what we do can help them in what they do, and about how special education and general education can/should/must coexist to produce outcomes for all children – for all future adults. The relationship between special ed and general ed is complicated, but not unexplainable. It is even somewhat counter-intuitive, when you compare how the United States does Special ed against how other countries create their special ed service structures. Not so long ago, I actually wrote a blog piece about this very subject, “Can Special Education Fix General Education?” Call me crazy, but I think it can. If General Education harnessed the true power of high quality individualized Special Education, we could transform the collective, global education landscape.So, I agree that spedlash is always with us, and that it flares up when times are tough. But I think there is also a challenge here, and that we should all embrace it for what it is – the opportunity to change minds…because now – when people have a vested stake – at least they’re listening. This is an opportunity to do the numbers dance, to illustrate shaping of behavior, to promote interdisciplinary outcomes, to meticulously plan functional independence – all the things we do every day for our students. I think spedlash is a sign of the times, and I think there is an education revolution brewing. There was a moment in Apollo 13, when everything had gone wrong and the NASA Admin came in and was looking for validation of the worst case scenario (the loss of the astronauts) from the Mission Director (played by Ed Harris), and what a disaster this would be for NASA and the entirety of the American people, and Ed Harris responded, “With all due respect, Sir, I think this may be our finest moment”. I think we’re getting closer to that moment in education everyday.


  3. Chris – thank you for the well-though out comment. I am not as optimistic as you are on this being our finest hour. There is no "real" life threatening crisis in education or special education today, it is a long-term and systemic issue that does not have any easy solutions or quick fixes. This takes away the necessity to get something done now.There are too many silos and walled gardens in education to see too much change in the near future. I hope for the best but I am beginning to witness the back lash against special education in places that I hadn't before and that concerns me, much more than the political games that are always played in Washington or state capitols.I just hope things turn out well for our students, but my optimism on how limited funds will be allocated in the future is low.Thanks again Chris.Harold


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