Braille Monitor                                                 March 2011

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Ensuring Equal Education for Blind Children:
Setting Standards That Promote Excellence

Purpose:

To establish an independent commission to set uniform nationwide standards for the education of blind students in grades K–12.

Background:

Blind students have been integrated into America’s public schools since the 1960s, but educators have never made an attempt to quantify or measure the quality of their education consistently and effectively. Although school districts are required by law to provide a “free, appropriate public education” to all students with disabilities, current regulations and practices only establish what services and accommodations blind students will receive individually and do not measure or attempt to measure the effectiveness of these services and accommodations. All too often this means that blind students are burdened with low expectations and inferior educational services.
To the extent that a blind child’s performance is poor, too many educators incorrectly believe that this occurs because of the child’s incapacity due to blindness rather than because of the inadequacy of the services and accommodations provided. The real problem, however, is what former President George W. Bush called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” The low expectations of educators for blind children become self-fulfilling prophecies when blind students receive inadequate Braille instruction; are not provided textbooks and other educational materials in specialized formats on time; or are not given adequate instruction in the skills of blindness including the use of access technology. Materials supporting the Common Core State Standards recently developed by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers state that students with disabilities “must be challenged to excel within the general curriculum and be prepared for success in their post-school lives, including college and/or careers” and must receive appropriate accommodations to achieve academic excellence. In order for this goal to become a reality, however, uniform national standards are needed to ensure that blind students have the skills they need to perform at age- and grade-appropriate levels throughout their educations. Such standards will finally put an end to the vicious circle of low expectations and inadequate services that has condemned far too many blind children to lives of frustration, illiteracy, and ultimately poverty.

Existing Law:

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides that every student with a disability must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP), agreed upon by a team that includes the student’s parents, teachers, and school administrators. While the IEP sets out what services and accommodations a student will receive and sets goals for the individual student’s progress, the effectiveness of the IEP itself is not measured against objective benchmarks in order to determine whether the blindness skills being taught and services being provided are allowing the student to perform to the same standards as other students of the same age, grade level, or level of intellectual functioning. Procedures exist for a child’s parents to object if they believe that the IEP is not being followed or needs to be changed, but the process is onerous and puts the burden of proof on the parents to show that the child is not receiving an adequate education, rather than on school administrators to show that the IEP is producing good results. Uniform standards outlining the services and accommodations that must be made available to all blind children, as well as the specific blindness skills the students need to acquire in order to succeed, would solve this problem by establishing benchmarks against which each child’s performance would be measured, providing a clear and unbiased assessment of whether the child is being educated effectively.

Need for Legislation:

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and other existing laws and regulations do not currently provide objective standards to measure the effectiveness of the education of blind students against accepted standards like the Common Core State Standards. Such standards must be set by a regulatory body that consists of and receives input from all stakeholders, including educators, blind Americans, and parents of blind children. Congress should enact legislation that creates an independent commission within the Department of Education to ensure representation of all stakeholders in order to set educational standards for blind children and to promulgate regulations providing for the enforcement of the standards throughout the United States. Only through the establishment of objective standards by such an independent body will blind children in America finally be freed from the chains of inadequate instruction, lackluster educational support, and low expectations.

Requested Action:

Please support blind Americans by sponsoring legislation to establish an independent commission to set standards for the education of all blind children in America.

Contact Information:

Jesse Hartle
Government Programs Specialist
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
Phone: (410) 659-9314, extension 2233
Email: <jhartle@nfb.org>


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