Harvard Educational Review
  1. Fall 1997 Issue »

    Correspondence

    The Editorial Board welcomes comments on articles, reviews, and letters that have appeared in the Harvard Educational Review. Letters from readers will be published, in full or in part, at the Editors' discretion. Authors of the articles under discussion are invited to respond.

    IDEA Has Led to Improved Results for Students with Disabilities: A Response to Lipsky and Gartner

    To the Editors:

    As a former Harvard Educational Review (HER) Editorial Board Member, I commend your publication of "Inclusion, School Restructuring, and the Remaking of American Society" (Winter 1996) by Dorothy Kerzner Lipsky and Alan Gartner, which continues HER's tradition of publishing critical commentary in special education. I also commend Drs. Lipsky and Gartner for their advocacy for inclusive schooling, so well presented in this piece. U.S. schools need to continue to move toward more inclusive educational practices, with special education being defined not as a place but as services students receive to access the curriculum.

    Further, issues of racial equity continue to plague special education. African American students are not only over represented in certain disability categories, even after accounting for poverty, but also are more likely to be segregated in separate special education settings and have limited access to challenging curricula (U.S. Department of Education, 1996).

    Though I share the authors' view that reform is needed, I take exception to their assertions concerning the lack of improvement in results (i.e., academic attainment, employment opportunities, and community integration) for students with disabilities and stagnant placement patterns. Failure to acknowledge both the improved results for students with disabilities that have occurred since the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the marked movement to more integrated placements, particularly in the past five years, could lead readers to an overly pessimistic view of the important role that IDEA has played in promoting improved educational opportunity for people with disabilities.

    Results for students with disabilities have improved significantly since IDEA was passed twenty-three years ago. Noteworthy achievements include a marked decrease in the number of children and youth in state institutions for the developmentally disabled, from a high of 91,592 in 1965 to 6,944 in 1991, a 92 percent decline (Bruininks, Lakin, & Hill, 1986; Hauber, Bruininks, Hill, Lakin, & White, 1984; Lakin, Hill, & Bruininks, 1985; Lakin, Hill, Cheu, & Stephens, 1989; Lakin, White, Hill, Bruininks, & Wright, 1990; and Scheerenberger, 1965, 1975, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1986, 1988, 1990). This is an important achievement, considering the well-documented abuses to which individuals with developmental disabilities were subjected in these settings (Blatt, 1970). This movement away from institutionalization would not have occurred without the influence of IDEA.

    IDEA has also resulted in the increased participation of people with disabilities in higher education. The percentage of freshmen in colleges and universities who report having disabilities has tripled since 1980 (American Council on Education, Heath Resource Center, 1992, p. 3, table 1). A 1994 survey of adults with disabilities conducted by the Harris Poll (Harris & Associates, 1994) found that 44 percent of adults with disabilities had some higher education, a marked increase from 29 percent found in the same poll eight years earlier. The National Organization on Disability credited the increase to IDEA: "In one key area, there are hopeful signs. Largely due to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1976, the gap in education is beginning to close" (National Organization on Disability, 1994, pp. 3–4). Thus, IDEA is cited as perhaps the primary vehicle showing success in closing the gap in access to education between persons with and those without disabilities.

    Given the increased access to education, people with disabilities in their twenties have attained a much higher employment rate than the population of people with disabilities as a whole. Approximately 57 percent of adults with disabilities were employed five years after leaving school. This compares favorably with the fact that only 31 percent of all adults with disabilities are employed (Wagner, Blackorby, Cameto, Hebbeler, & Newman, 1993). The President's Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities has documented continued improvement in the employment picture for people with disabilities. In the past five years, the number of adults with severe disabilities in the work force has increased by 800,000 (Census Bureau, 1991, 1993, 1994). The committee attributes improved transition from programs under IDEA and the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act as major contributors to this improvement.

    Lipsky and Gartner's assertion that "little has changed in the placement pattern since the law's implementation" is simply false. Marked movement of students to more integrated settings, particularly in recent years, has occurred. In the 1986–1987 school year, only 27 percent of the students with disabilities were served in regular classrooms more than 80 percent of the day. This contrasts with close to 44 percent in the 1993–1994 school year (U.S. Department of Education, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996).

    Though I challenge the negative view presented of IDEA, I support the authors' advocacy for movement to more inclusive education for students with disabilities. Inclusive education is tied to civil rights, and appropriate integration is tied to improved results for students with disabilities (Wagner et al., 1993). Further, the inappropriate use of restrictive special education placements for students, particularly minority students, as a means of avoiding instructional accountability is a serious problem that must be addressed (Allington & McGill-Franzen, 1990). I applaud the authors for providing examples of reform at the state and local levels that are addressing these issues.

    I would also like to inform your readers of initiatives at the federal level that are addressing the issues of equity and access.

    The Clinton administration and the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) have taken a strong and proactive stance concerning equity and access, particularly related to inappropriate placement of minority students in special education, and in support of integration and inclusion. Under the leadership of Secretary of Education Richard Riley, the National Assessment of Educational Progress now includes both students with disabilities and students with limited English proficiency. As a result, we will know how students with disabilities are performing. Since July 1994, the Office for Civil Rights has entered into more than one hundred voluntary agreements with school districts. These voluntary agreements focus on reducing the inappropriate placement of minority students. The Office of Special Education Programs has revised its state monitoring procedures to focus on those aspects of IDEA that most directly improve results for students with disabilities, such as Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), Free Appropriate Public Education, and transition. The DOE also has funded significant research and technical assistance efforts promoting integration and inclusion.

    The DOE has included language inclusive of students with disabilities in all of its legislative proposals: GOALS 2000, the School-to-Work Act, and the Improving America's Schools Act. The Administration proposed amendments to the IDEA designed to improve results for students with disabilities and increase appropriate integration of students with disabilities. These include:

    1. a requirement that students with disabilities be included in state and local assessments;

    2. a requirement that a justification for removal from regular education environments be included in the student's Individualized Education Program (IEP), as well as a statement of the modifications and support the student will receive in the general education environment;

    3. a requirement that the student's IEP focus on access to the district's general education curriculum;

    4. a requirement that states establish performance goals for its IDEA program that, at a minimum, address school completion rates and the progress students with disabilities are making in achieving curriculum standards;

    5. an option for increased flexibility in the use of Federal special education funds to support integration; and

    6. a requirement that states have "placement neutral" funding formulas for special education.

    The 105th Congress has passed a comprehensive reauthorization of IDEA that has incorporated these proposals. President Clinton passed this bill on June 4, 1997.

    In conclusion, IDEA has been a successful piece of legislation that has led to improved results for thousands of students with disabilities. However, much needs to be done before we can be assured that the primary goal of the legislation, educational equity for students with disabilities, is achieved, and the historic abuses of minority students inappropriately placed in special education cease. We must build on the significant accomplishments IDEA has supported while addressing the challenges we continue to face.

    THOMAS HEHIR
    Director
    Office of Special Education Programs
    U.S. Department of Education
    Washington, DC


    References

    Allington, R. L., & McGill-Franzen, A. (1990). Children with reading problems: How we wrongfully classify them and fail to teach many to read. Spectrum-Journal of School Research and Information, 8(4), 3–9.

    American Council on Education, Heath Resource Center. (1992). College freshman with disabilities: A statistical profile. Los Angeles: Author.

    Blatt, B. (1970). Exodus from pandemonium. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

    Bruininks, R. H., Lakin, K. C., & Hill, B. K. (1986). Client oriented service indicators. Washington, DC: Bureau of Social Science Research.

    Census Bureau. (1991). The Survey of Income Program Participation (SIPP). Washington, DC: Author.

    Census Bureau. (1993). The Survey of Income Program Participation (SIPP). Washington, DC: Author.

    Census Bureau, (1994). The Survey of Income Program Participation (SIPP). Washington, DC: Author.

    Hauber, F. A., Bruininks, R. H., Hill, B. K., Lakin, K. C., & White, C. C. (1984). National census of residential facilities: Fiscal year 1982. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Center for Residential and Community Services.

    Harris, L., & Associates, Inc. (1994). N.O.D./Harris Survey of Americans with Disabilities, Study Number 942003. New York: Author.

    Lakin, K. C., Hill, B. K., & Bruininks, R. H. (Eds.). (1985). An analysis of Medicaid's Intermediate Care Facility for the Mentally Retarded (ICF-MR) program. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Center for Residential and Community Services.

    Lakin, K. C., Hill, B. K., Cheu, T., & Stephens, S. A. (1989). Persons with mental retardation and related conditions in mental retardation facilities: Selected findings from the 1987 National Medical Expenditure Survey. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Center for Residential and Community Services.

    Lakin, K. C., White, C. C., Hill, B. K., Bruininks, R. H., & Wright, E. A. (1990). Longitudinal change and interstate variability in the size of residential facilities for persons with mental retardation. Mental Retardation, 28(6), 344–351.

    Lipsky, D. K., & Gartner, A. (1996). Inclusion, school restructuring, and the remaking of American society. Harvard Educational Review, 66, 762–796.

    National Organization on Disability. (1994). Closing the gap: Expanding the participation of Americans with disabilities. Washington, DC: Author.

    Scheerenberger, R. C. (1965). A current census of state institutions for the mentally retarded. Mental Retardation, 3(3), 4–6.

    Scheerenberger, R. C. (1975). Current trends and status of public residential services for the mental retarded. Fairfax, VA: National Association of Superintendents of Public Residential Facilities for the Mentally Retarded (NASPRFMR).

    Scheerenberger, R. C. (1978). Public residential services for the mentally retarded, 1977. Fairfax, VA: National Association of Superintendents of Public Residential Facilities for the Mentally Retarded (NASPRFMR).

    Scheerenberger, R. C. (1980). Public residential services for the mentally retarded, 1979. Fairfax, VA: National Association of Superintendents of Public Residential Facilities for the Mentally Retarded (NASPRFMR).

    Scheerenberger, R. C. (1981). Public residential services for the mentally retarded, 1981. Fairfax, VA: National Association of Superintendents of Public Residential Facilities for the Mentally Retarded (NASPRFMR).

    Scheerenberger, R. C. (1983). Public residential services for the mentally retarded, 1982. Fairfax, VA: National Association of Superintendents of Public Residential Facilities for the Mentally Retarded (NASPRFMR).

    Scheerenberger, R. C. (1986). Public residential services for the mentally retarded, 1985. Fairfax, VA: National Association of Superintendents of Public Residential Facilities for the Mentally Retarded (NASPRFMR).

    Scheerenberger, R. C. (1988). Public residential services for the mentally retarded, FY 1986–1987. Fairfax, VA: National Association of Superintendents of Public Residential Facilities for the Mentally Retarded (NASPRFMR).

    Scheerenberger, R. C. (1990). Public residential services for the mentally retarded, FY 1988–1989. Fairfax, VA: National Association of Superintendents of Public Residential Facilities for the Mentally Retarded (NASPRFMR).

    U.S. Department of Education. (1990). Twelfth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

    U.S. Department of Education. (1991). Thirteenth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

    U.S. Department of Education. (1992). Fourteenth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

    U.S. Department of Education. (1993). Fifteenth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

    U.S. Department of Education. (1994). Sixteenth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

    U.S. Department of Education. (1995). Seventeenth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

    U.S. Department of Education. (1996). Eighteenth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

    Wagner, M., Blackorby, J., Cameto, R., Hebbeler, K., & Newman, L. (1993). The transition experiences of young people with disabilities. Palo Alto, CA: SRI International.

    Lipsky and Gartner Respond to Hehir

    We welcomed Tom Hehir's letter commenting on our article, "Inclusion, School Restructuring, and the Remaking of American Society," and his commendation of our advocacy for inclusive schooling.

    Dr. Hehir notes significant accomplishments for persons with disabilities, for example, the reduction of children and youth consigned to state institutions for the developmentally disabled, the increase in the participation of persons with disabilities in higher education, the lower unemployment rate of young adults with disabilities as compared with older persons with disabilities. We concur with these points; however, we do have questions as to the attribution of these welcomed changes to IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), and their relevance to our article, which identified as its purpose the review of special education over the past ten years.

    We believe that our view of IDEA is a balanced one. As we stated in the article, IDEA has had significant impact in terms of students' access to special education services. However, in terms of outputs, that is, benefits to the students served, we document the limits of IDEA's effects in terms of student learning, graduation rates, dropout rates, postsecondary education and training, employment, and community living. We believe that the continuation of separate placements for the great majority of students with disabilities is itself unacceptable, as a matter of equity and the law, and is a cause of the limited outcomes. While Dr. Hehir correctly cites figures that show an increase in less restrictive placements, two points worth noting are that 1) greater than 55 percent of students with disabilities continue to be served in separate placements, and 2) those students whom the federal figures identify as being served in "regular classes" may spend up to a fifth of their time in separate placements. Finally, Dr. Hehir rightly identifies equity issues in terms of race; our article documents the persistence of such inequities in terms of race, gender, and class.

    The limited benefits and persistent inequities highlight the importance of the need for educational restructuring. The current organization of school systems with its bifurcation of the student body into those labelled as "general" and those labelled as "special," and the conduct of special education is a reflection of society's disdain for people with disabilities. As John Dewey pointed out, schools are not only a place of preparation of the young, but also a place for creating new values. Until they become a place where all students — including those with disabilities — are valued, the schools will fail, as both educators of the young and as mirrors of the society. This is the lesson that the late Ron Edmonds taught us two decades ago in terms of school failure for students who are Black and from poor families, and it is the lesson that the disability rights movement teaches us today.

    Indeed, IDEA has made a difference. The recent renewal of IDEA gives further impetus to inclusive practices. However, to date it remains a promise as yet unfulfilled. It is two decades since the passage of P.L. 94-142 (IDEA): time enough to expect both access and excellence in outcomes; time enough to expect that students, regardless of race, color, or gender, will be served with their same-age peers in programs of quality; time enough to end the sorting function that special education has played; time enough for school districts to be held accountable for outcomes of all students; time enough for the law's requirement that states and school districts implement "best practices" to be enforced; time enough for the federal government to use its monitoring authority rigorously to enforce the law, not only to identify problems. As researchers and as advocates for students with disabilities and their parents, we will continue to document both achievement and shortfall, and hold to the belief that as a nation we cannot allow appropriate education for students with disabilities — that is, high-quality and inclusive education — to remain a dream deferred.

    DOROTHY KERZNER LIPSKY
    ALAN GARTNER
    Graduate School and University Center
    City University of New York


    Collier Comments on Mosteller

    To the Editors:

    Since graduating from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1966 with an M.Ed. in counseling and psychology, I've never been surprised when education professionals turn facts upside down to support their anti-intellectual, pro-social engineering agendas. The article, "Sustained Inquiry in Education: Lessons from Skill Grouping and Class Size," in the Winter 1996 issue of the Harvard Educational Review, is a prime example. Having first set their own standards concerning what research is valid, what effect size is significant, and how effect size correlates with improved or decreased academic performance, the authors (Mosteller, Light, and Sachs) then choose to interpret the results of their work in conflict with those standards.

    The authors tell us that an effect size greater than .05 is statistically significant and that an effect size of .30 can be construed as moving from academic performance at the 50th percentile level to the 62nd percentile level, or as a 30-point increase in SAT levels. Their analysis of ten studies of whole-class instruction at three skill levels shows for the highest skill group six studies with positive effects exceeding .05, two with negative effects less than –.05, and two in between. Of the six exceeding .05, four are .24 or higher, meaning a performance increase from the 50th percentile to approximately the 60th percentile, or a 20 percent increase in performance. The authors then go on to say that they "find little evidence that skill grouping has a major impact, either positive or negative, on students' cognitive learning" (p. 812). Try to tell a parent whose child has improved his or her "cognitive learning" by 20 percent that there has not been a major impact! Or try to tell a teacher that her methods that produce significant learning increases for 40 percent of her students with practically no negative impact on the remainder have been of no consequence! For mid-level skill groups, five studies showed significant positive effects, compared to three that found a negative impact. Only with the low-level skill groups were there more significant negative effects than positive (three to two), and five showed no effect. For those who have reviewed the research on skill grouping carefully and objectively, it is clear that the lack of improvement among low-level skill groups has more to do with other, correctable administrative decisions made than the mere fact of skill grouping. The three major characteristics of low-skill-grouped classes identified in the literature are: 1) they have the least experienced teachers, who prefer not to be in that classroom; 2) the curriculum and instructional materials have not been modified to fit the students in the class; and 3) too many disruptive students have been placed in those classes regardless of their skills and abilities.

    The results of the authors' analysis of acceptable Joplin Plan classes should drive a stake into their hearts. The two Joplin Plan experiments showed positive effect sizes of .33 and .55. Surveys of classroom teachers, as opposed to the upwardly mobile administrators, show that they prefer skill grouping, and those most familiar with the research on the subject express an even higher level of support for skill grouping. One hopes these teachers prefer skill grouping not just because these classes may be easier to teach, but because they can do a better job of what they are in the classroom to do — teach their subject matter.1 Mosteller, Light, and Sachs don't really assign additional positive effect to the fact that many students also prefer skill grouping and become more personally involved in their learning; if the authors did recognize students' preferences for skill grouping, they surely would not conclude that skill grouping does not have a major impact on cognitive learning. If students' attitudes and involvement are so insignificant, then why do we spend so much time and effort trying to make learning "fun"?

    Sadly, the answer is that professors at our schools of education have given up on the transmittal of knowledge as their number-one priority in favor of trying to develop a society sans individualism, whether we want it or not. Jeannie Oakes, the most well-known spokesperson for heterogeneous grouping, in one of her reports admitted that in one study of skill grouping she considered valid, students homogeneously grouped in all three skill levels in an elementary school experiment improved their academic performance compared with those in heterogeneous groups. She deemed this outcome as unsatisfactory, however, because the highest skill level improved more than the middle skill level, which improved more than the lowest skill level. It was not enough that all skill levels improved; she apparently could not accept the fact that students with greater academic ability have the capacity to improve the most when given the opportunity.

    The oppressive attitude towards skill grouping on the part of schools of education and the educational profession in general has certainly increased in recent years. It is interesting to note that of the fifteen "valid" experiments with skill grouping reviewed by Mosteller, Light, and Sachs, thirteen occurred prior to 1970, two prior to 1980, and one in 1985, over ten years ago. The 1985 study, though only a half-year experiment with mathematics, showed positive effects from .55 to .84. These results must have scared the daylights out of opponents of skill grouping because there have been no "valid" experiments with skill grouping since. It clearly is possible that teachers of skill-grouped classes might have felt intimidated by antagonistic administrators, thereby negatively affecting their teaching and/or efforts and willingness to validate improved cognitive learning in their skill-grouped classrooms. The weakness of the arguments of opponents of skill grouping is indicated by their oft-used pejorative descriptive terms — immoral, un-American, elitist, and out-of-touch, terms most middle-class Americans find intimidating. Attacking the philosophies and methods of parents and other citizens is another strategy public school educators use to disqualify any dissenters from joining in a critical discussion of public school policies and techniques. And let's not forget the self-consciously developed "esoteric language," the main purpose of which is to disqualify the public. Educators testifying before Senator Jeffords's (R-VT) Education Committee hearings attacked the educational methods by which most living Americans were educated as not only inadequate, but harmful. The implication was that parents must become children themselves and become their children's teachers' pupils. All these techniques are used as substitutes for rational and quantifiable arguments. With these emotional and political techniques, supporters of classroom organizations such as heterogeneous and multi-age groups have essentially abandoned trying to justify them on the basis of cognitive learning improvement, which can be measured, in favor of the seven intelligences and the other vaguely defined and subjectively evaluated outcomes such as social behavior, creativity, and critical thinking. They have shifted the burden of proof of the validity of their programs and methods to the public's having to prove its own validity and relevance. This is a foolproof recipe for vouchers, which I don't want to see happen. I sometimes think educators want to be martyrs more than anything else.

    It's time for our schools of education to get in touch with the American public concerning what it truly wants for its children. And importantly, it's time to pay attention to what learning professionals outside schools of education are telling us very tentatively about how children really learn. When they come to grips with the fact that life was no fairer in doling out academic ability than it was with athletic, artistic, musical, or manual ability, maybe we'll see a more objective analysis of what "the research" really says.

    CLAIRE S.COLLIER
    Retired

    Notes

    1 The recent report on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study indicated that one finding consistent in all countries was that most teachers say coping with differences in the ability level of their students slows down lessons.
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    Fall 1997 Issue

    Abstracts

    Dual-Language Immersion Programs
    A Cautionary Note Concerning the Education of Language-Minority Students
    Guadalupe Valdes
    Language in Thinking and Learning
    Pedagogy and the New Whorfian Framework
    Penny Lee
    Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Which Is the Fairest Test of All?
    An Examination of the Equitability of Portfolio Assessment Relative to Standardized Tests
    Jonathan A. Supovitz, Robert T. Brennan
    Elite College Discrimination and the Limits of Conflict Theory
    Richard Farnum
    The More We Get Together
    Improving Collaboration Between Educators and Their Lawyers
    Jay P. Heubert
    Further Comment
    Haithe Anderson, Patti Lather

    Book Notes

    Call 1-800-513-0763 to order this issue.