Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

A Response to Kauffman's the Devaluation of Special Education

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

A Response to Kauffman's the Devaluation of Special Education

Article excerpt


Kauffman indicts the President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education (PCESE) for sometimes implying the opposite of its stated aim of helping children in special education, including students with EBD, as he believes does the No Child Left Behind act (NCLB, 2002). This response addresses (a) two pivotal, but implied aspects the PCESE and why they are problematic, (b) some other aspects of Kauffman's observations, and (c) the fundamental, but difficult questions we in special education must begin to ask ourselves to avoid the further devaluation of special education.


Kauffman examines two major policy forces impacting special education, particularly their relevance to children and youth with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD). He discusses the recommendations of the President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education (PCESE) and aspects of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), concluding that "... the report is disingenuous and devalues special education, particularly special education for children with emotional and behavioral disorders." (p. 2, ms).

The purpose of this response to Kauffinan's observations is threefold. First, I address two pivotal but implied problems that undergird the spirit of both the PCESE and NCLB. Second, I briefly discuss other aspects of some of Kauffman's critique. Third, I suggest that we in special education must address head-on some difficult questions that we have largely failed to answer, and how some answers to our problems lie much closer to home than commissions or special education law.

Two Fundamental Problems Abetting Devaluation:

Unsettled Questions of Disability and Effectiveness

A major theme of the PCESE and NCLB is that educators, including those in special education, are to be held more accountable for their students' academic performance than in the recent past. Accountability, however, assumes that key underlying empirical research and practice in special education are closely and accurately related so that evidence of intervention efficacy is demonstrable. For example, teachers of students with EBD should, as a matter of course, be intimately familiar with the broadspectrum etiology, characteristics, and sequelae of EBD. Also, teachers of students with EBD should be highly skilled in consistently and accurately using empirically tested and universally accepted effective practices which will allow their charges the best possible opportunities for learning and significant academic progress. In simpler terms, teachers are assumed to be highly qualified and experienced in their specialty area, are to be conversant with and use state-of-the-art teaching methods, and to demonstrate a high level of professional acumen in distinguishing between effective and ineffective practices based on their expertise through critically reading the research literature and by on-going professional training.

These assumptions do not hold in special education for two important reasons: The idea of disability, and the notion of effectiveness. The PCESE reflects some ambiguity as to whether disability exists, and even if it does, whether such reality should be allowed to make a difference for how students progress though school. Further, the commission insists that ways to facilitate more effective instruction be empirically based.

Unfortunately, what the PCESE fails to take into account is that disability and effectiveness are still fiercely contended among special education scholars. Regarding the former, there is no consensus about what disability is: There are those who think disability is real and therefore has significant educational consequences (e.g. Kauffman, 2002; Kauffman, Bantz, & McCullough, 2002; Swain & French, 2000), and those who see disability as a contrived and disingenuous attempt to socially ghettoize people deemed deviant enough to warrant identification and "special" treatment (e. …

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