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Duane V. Grassell / August 14, 2013

A Brief History of the Fed Takeover of Public Education

And a Few of the Results

I’ve been in the education profession for 33 years now. Working in the public schools, I’ve seen a lot of blame toward our profession for the appalling output with each year’s graduating class. Many make the stock argument with the teacher unions protecting bad teachers or the argument that there are too many leftists who spend their classroom time in indoctrination rather than actual teaching. While those arguments have merit, I would like to comment on an education subject I don’t see people commenting on. I would like to point out what education law says at the federal level. I’m old enough to remember when education law and funding was strictly a state and local issue. In fact, I’m old enough to remember when Christian prayer was still allowed in the public schools.

The biggest influence in public education today is Public Law 94-142. Passed in 1975 by a post-Watergate heavily liberal Democrat congress and signed into law by appointed President Gerald Ford, the Education of All Handicapped Children Act was enacted. This law predates the Department of Education. It has been reauthorized by Congress every year without much hassle and over the last quarter century. Recently it has been renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This law unconstitutionally grabbed power from the state and local governments by mandating that all handicapped children in a community get free services from their local schools. Of course the mandate did not come with adequate funding for public schools to meet all the needs of area handicapped student.

In the beginning the law was seen as a good law where those with legitimate handicaps could get the same public education as their able bodied peers. The blind, the deaf, and those confined to wheelchairs could now enter the public schools and be accommodated for their handicap. Never mind that there were all ready specialty schools where the blind could receive a well rounded education and assimilation to a seeing world, as did the deaf. These schools began to disappear when parents of the handicapped learned they could now send their children to the public schools who were obligated by federal law to meet their accommodations regardless of any extra expense to the school district. Thus, more local school expenditure went to special education needs at the expense of the general education students. The federal law required a “least restrictive environment” without the funds to pay for them. Also, the handicapped were short changed in that they received their accommodations, but not lessons in assimilation to the world.

Again, this seemed like a good idea at the time, and one can point to some positive individual results, but like the American with Disabilities Act before it, IDEA became a law that became much abused. The greatest abuse comes in the field called “mental handicaps”. This use to be reserved to the mentally retarded, a term now deemed politically incorrect and whose name has been changed at least 4 times since the law was first enacted. Now any student of any intelligence level can be labeled with a mental handicap and get an “Individual Education Plan” (IEP) that the school system is obliged to adhere to. If any parent allows there child to be given an IEP, they are cheating their child out of a better education. Unfortunately, too many parents seek out to have their child diagnosed with a mental handicap where they are given an IEP. The reason is that this label is a start on the road for the parents to get another check from the government even at the expense of their child’s welfare. Every IEP comes with a list of accommodations that every teacher is obligated to employ without their input. Here is a sample of required accommodations to an IEP.

  1. The student will have all tests read to them, including state tests required for graduation. This discourages the student from improving their reading skills and always make them dependent on an adult when it comes time to take a test. The student does not meet the real challenge of having to read a problem, interpret the given information, understand the information requested, and use previously learned information in the process to finding the solution. While this accommodation can get a student through courses all the way to graduation, its greatest harm comes in their post school lives. With No Child Left Behind demanding that all students be ready for college by the end of high school, the students with this accommodation are unprepared for the SAT or the ACT or any college workload should they find a way to be admitted to a college. While the public schools are required to meet these accommodations, the colleges are not. Even, if the student does not attempt college, they are still unprepared for any reading that may be required in their adult lives. For employers seeking employment of people with a high school education, they can receive high school transcripts with the course load and grades, but no evidence that the student was on a special education IEP.

  2. Many students with an IEP have what is called the 75% accommodation. This allows the student to not do 25% of any workload given them by a teacher. If a teacher assigns a homework assignment with 20 problems, the student with this accommodation in their IEP is only required to do 15 problems to receive full credit. Students who do not have an IEP find this very unfair as they have to do more than the student with the IEP to get the same grade. Still, this is the liberal idea of fairness. The 75% accommodation does not just apply to homework, but also to tests, projects, and any other type of assignment the teacher may wish to assign. This also cheats the students who are conditioned that they do not have to do a full workload to get by. Of course this accommodation ends when the students graduate and get into the real world.

Many in my profession have argued that these first two accommodations reward the lazy. As someone who has tracked these students after graduation I tend to agree. These are the students who drop out of college after less than a year, who can not complete military service because they can’t learn the training, who can’t complete a trade school course, who go from one low paying job to another through their 20s, or who mind up on our ever growing welfare rolls.

  1. The most offensive portion of IDEA is when a child gets an IEP of “severe behavioral handicap” (SBR). This law allows criminals to stay in our public schools with full protection of the law. Once a child gets the SBR label, they can not be expelled, suspended or even punished for their behavior, unless they commit an offense that leads to jail time. These are children that caring parents would want to their children to be separated from, but the full force of federal law allows them to be in the same class room disrupting instruction until some judge finds reason to jail them. This protection only reinforces their criminal behavior until they graduate. Unfortunately, once out in the real world, these former students are unable to function in a civil society and will usually get into trouble with the law. The rude awakening comes in adulthood when the accommodation no longer applies to them. This one area of special education law has driven many good teachers out of the profession, in many cases due to an assault.

There are three more unfortunate consequences to the execution of this law other than it does not prepare our students for real life. One of the consequences is our standing compared to the rest of the world in education. When world ranking statistics are published comparing the education of several nations, the United States Department of Education includes data from these students with IEPs while other countries do not include these students in their national data. Many other governments pull these students out of their public school system and send them on to alternative forms of education that help these students assimilate into their society. Thus, in these world rankings, other nations report the results of their best performing students while the United States includes all our students at all levels. It is a typical apples and oranges comparison. Of course, when results come out showing the US behind in educational achievement, both parties always call for more money in education without addressing the law that causes our nation’s poor performance. While more money is spent on education at the federal level, little of it comes down to the local schools to meet true needs for the truly handicapped.

Another unfortunate consequence of the IDEA law is the students who are given IEPs are usually minorities and the poor. It seems the law was written with the intent of keeping the poor ignorant and poor.

A final consequence I will close this commentary with is what the does to the general education courses. As a teacher who has taught both the Special Education course and general education course in the same subject, I am appalled to find the special education classes with only 12 students who would be able to pass a general education if challenged and not given the unneeded crutch they’ve been given by the by the system, while a general education course on the same subject will have 35 students in it. As a result of not seeking and receiving an IEP, regular students are confined to overcrowded classrooms being denied the individual attention they might receive in a smaller classroom. Instead of two teachers, one with a small class and another with a large class, we could have the same two teachers each managing a class of 25 or under.

Is this the education we want for our children? Is this the education that will keep our country at the top of the world? Do you want the federal government to continue to dictate education practice? Does the Constitution allow this? I believe the results of the last two presidential elections can be attributed to the education practices of this law for the last 37 years.

For my next commentary, I would like to write about the effects of living in the welfare state has to public education.

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