In The Politics of Autism, I write about special education and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Betsy DeVos stumbled in her confirmation hearing when the discussion focused on IDEA. Valerie Strauss reports at The Washington Post:
Days later, DeVos wrote a letter to [Sen. Johnny] Isakson trying to explain her position on IDEA. The letter raises new questions about her priorities.
DeVos wrote in the letter (see text below) that she understands IDEA is a federal law and that she is “eager to bring a sense of urgency” to enforcing it. She said that she wants schools to strengthen student IEPs, which are Individual Education Programs that spell out special-education learning goals and needed services/accommodations.
She then said she wants to provide students with disabilities more educational opportunities — and praised a voucher program that helps students with disabilities attend private school funded with taxpayer dollars...
She doesn’t talk specifically about helping traditional public schools — which educate the vast majority of America’s schoolchildren — improve their special education programs or how they implement IDEA.Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), a disability parent, is not convinced:
“While I’m glad Mrs. DeVos clarified that she is no longer confused about whether the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a federal law and was able to define the basic tenets of this law, her letter does nothing to reassure me that she will enforce the IDEA or honor our commitment to ensuring that all students receive a free and appropriate public education. In addition, Mrs. DeVos failed to address the original question I posed to her in her confirmation hearing, which was about why she is comfortable with voucher programs that force parents and students to sign away their rights under IDEA.
“Between her lack of experience with public education, her support for diverting taxpayer dollars to private schools without accountability requirements, and her lack of understanding of the challenges facing students with disabilities, Mrs. DeVos has shown herself to be completely unqualified for this position – and her recent letter has only reinforced that she is unfit to serve as Secretary of Education. I will vote against Mrs. DeVos’ nomination and I urge my colleagues to do the same.”
At Education Week, Benjamin Herold writes:
President Donald Trump's nominee to head the federal Education Department is a major backer of a company claiming its neurofeedback technology can "fix" problems such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and has "proven and long-lasting" positive effects on children with autism.
Current scientific evidence does not support such claims, according to the clinical guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics and three leading researchers consulted by Education Week.
"It's misleading the public to say neurofeedback is effective in treating kids with ADHD and autism," said Nadine Gaab, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Boston Children's Hospital and a faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.Laura Turner reports at Politico:
"It's still an experimental treatment that needs more rigorous research," she said.
Launched in 2006, Neurocore is based in Grand Rapids, Mich. That's also the hometown of billionaire school-choice advocate Betsy DeVos, Trump's pick to become U.S. Secretary of Education.
The most vulnerable children also include those with disabilities—a group to whom evangelicals have long paid special attention. Some evangelicals are concerned that DeVos’ strong advocacy for school choice will diminish the resources available to kids who, under IDEA, are guaranteed a “free and appropriate education.” Taking money that would otherwise go to a public school and giving it to a family in the form of a voucher would mean that those public schools, which are frequently already under-resourced, have fewer and fewer options to offer IDEA students.
“My kid is already marginalized in society for not being neurotypical,” Nish Weiseth, an evangelical author and speaker who also has a son with autism, told me. “How much more could he be marginalized and made vulnerable because of education policy?”
[Seattle Pacific University dean Rick] Eigenbrood, who was a special education teacher before he began working at the college level added that if high-performing students are given the choice to leave their local public schools for charter or private schools, they will interact less and less with students with disabilities, who may not be covered by IDEA at non-public schools. “If you’re a child growing up and you don’t get to go to a school where you encounter people with disabilities, I think you’ve lost an important part of what it means to be able to function in a fully-inclusive society that includes people with disabilities,” he says.