By Gerard Robinson, Executive Director, Center for Advancing Opportunity
With the start of every New Year we pray for glad tidings and good news for friends and loved ones living with a disability and for caregivers who support them. With more than 57 million people with a disability living in the United States, we are one to five names removed from personally knowing someone who does. And with a new year comes possibilities for major changes in policy and practice to improve their access to school, college, and the workplace. Some victories have occurred, though we have more work to do.
In 2018, new possibilities for the disability community will be influenced by serval factors.
The Endrew decision: On March 22, 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 8-0 in Endrew v. Douglas County School District that states must do more to provide a quality education to students with disabilities. This was a major victory for families and school children that are legally obligated to receive a “free appropriate public education” with support from an individualized education plan (IEP) under the Education for All Handicapped Act ofof 1975—which later became the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1990.
According to Chief Justice John Roberts, “When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimis’ progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all.” Roberts further said, “For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to ‘sitting idly…awaiting the time when they were old enough to ‘drop out.’” This statement is now without merit.
Approximately 6.6 million students age 3-21 receive service under IDEA. According to a 2017 report published by the Institute for Education Sciences, approximately 66 percent of students with a disability graduated with a high school diploma and 18 percent dropped out. For high school graduates that matriculate in college only 7 percent earn a degree. To address this problem, our job is to use the Endrew decision to guide conversations at the state and local level about the best ways to open doors of opportunity to more students with disabilities.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015: On December 10, 2015, President Obama signed ESSA into law. This action reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, and No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. One goal of ESSA is to provide state education chiefs, local school boards, superintendents, and educators more regulatory flexibility to practice their craft, and to align their standards and benchmarks to improve student learning. As of December 2017, 50 states and the District of Columbia have submitted an ESSA plan to the federal Department of Education.
I was honored to be a member of a 45 person national panel of experts pulled together by Bellwether Education Partners and the Collaboration for Student Success to review ESSA plans. According to a summary of all 51 plans, most states missed an opportunity to explain how their plans align to help students with disabilities. Of particular note are these points:
All states have alternate academic achievement standards and assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, but states barely mentioned them in their plans. ESSA also codified a rule that only 1 percent of students could take these assessments, but no state took the opportunity to articulate how it would manage that process and ensure that this cap was not exceeded.
This in no way indicates that state leaders are uninterested in the disability community. The percentage of IDEA students between 6-21 that received 80 percent or more of the school day instruction inside a general classroom rose from 31.7 percent to 61.8 percent between 1989 and 2013. So this population matters. To show students with disabilities matter, I recommend everyone read their state plan to identify ways to improve access and opportunities for students with disabilities.
Please look for part two of this blog post series. We’ll be discussing how disability advocacy can reach all aspects of public life.
Gerard Robinson is the Executive Director of the Center for Advancing Opportunity (CAO), a research and education initiative created by a partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the Charles Koch Foundation, and Koch Industries. CAO supports faculty and students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other postsecondary institutions to develop research-based solutions to the most pressing education, criminal justice, and entrepreneurship issues in fragile communities throughout the United States.
Prior to CAO, Robinson worked as a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a Washington, D.C.-based public policy think tank committed to expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity and strengthening free enterprise. Robinson’s research areas included school choice in the public and private sectors; prison education and reentry programs; regulatory development and implementation of K-12 policy; the role of for-profit institutions in education; and, the role of community colleges and Historically Black Colleges and Universities in adult advancement
Robinson earned an Ed.M. from Harvard, a B.A. from Howard, and an A.A. from El Camino Community College. In 2011, Bluefield College awarded him an honorary doctorate for his work to improve learning opportunities for students at all levels. He is married and has three daughters.