Tuesday, July 14, 2009

An Open Letter -- and Homework -- for Secretary Duncan

Dear Secretary Duncan:

I like to report on positive steps the administration is taking to improve the lives of people with disabilities. And I'd REALLY like to find some good news -- even supportive statements -- coming from you and the Department of Education. I promise you, if you say something positive, I'll report it here and many people will read about it.

But PLEASE. Give me something to work with.

As an example, you met yesterday with the American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teachers union, with 1.4 million members. In your address and in the Q&A, you never mentioned special education and how it might fit in with your proposed education reforms.

You had a chance when a teacher from Illinois asked you about standards for paraprofessionals. You could have said, "Great question. As you know, we have more than 250,000 paraprofessionals in our schools who play an important role supporting teachers -- and who are critical to our ability to meet the needs of children in special education programs. We have to make sure that we have high standards for them just as we do for teachers."

That's what you could have said. Instead, your answer was: "Great question. One I haven't done a lot of work on."

Secretary Duncan, with all respect, it's time for you to do some work on special education. As a start, please read this fact sheet on paraprofessionals from your own Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). But please, don't stop there. As you work to fulfill your responsibility to provide education for all Americans, including those who have disabilities, visit the OSEP website to learn about its programs and responsibilities. While you're there, you may notice that under "what's new," there are only two new entries since President Obama took office six months ago. I hope to see more developments and hear your plans soon.
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