Program better pinpoints the need for special education
The state Department of Education is taking a different tack on identifying children who require special education.
A NEW approach in determining whether students need special education
could prove advantageous to children who have simply fallen behind in learning and who can catch up with their peers if given appropriate instruction.
Though more research about the method is needed, school districts that have been using the tack for more than a decade have seen successful results, which should encourage Hawaii's public education officials as they begin implementing the program.
Called "response to intervention," the approach follows a new U.S. Department of Education policy aimed at giving struggling students in early grades intensive teaching to see if they improve. If they do, they can continue regular education, avoiding the often-stigmatized label of "special education."
Education experts say that children with normal IQs who lag behind their peers in initial school years generally end up identified erroneously as having a disability. A disproportionate number of them are minority or economically disadvantaged students who did not have good preschool experiences or healthy learning environments at home.
Because the program may be able to help them overcome those circumstances, it should receive strong support and since Hawaii has a large number of minority and recent-immigrant children, the state's adoption of the approach is worthwhile.
Hawaii recently was identified as one of only nine states that are fully meeting federal requirements for special education, representing a big turnaround for the state that for years had been under federal court supervision because of special education failures.
Adopting the new program will keep the state moving ahead in providing for children with special needs. By identifying those who require only early intensive aid, educators can sustain attention on special education students.
The conflict, as always, involves money. The new federal policy for the first time allows schools to use up to 15 percent of their special education funding for the early intervention program. How much of Hawaii's federal funds, which last year totaled $36 million, will be used isn't known.
Parents of special-needs students say the policy will divert the amount available for their children to those who haven't yet been deemed entitled. However, the new approach will likely send fewer students into the special education pool and in the long run will benefit both groups of children.
Moreover, the federal government says it will award $14 million over five years for model programs. State education officials should pursue those funds. With Hawaii's good standing in special education and its large number of minority students, the state could make a strong case for getting extra funds.