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Feds say Michigan’s special education system needs an overhaul. Now what?

School desks
Flickr user Frank Juarez/Flickr
The Dept. of Ed. sent a letter to the State School Superintendent, stating "Michigan needs intervention in implementing the requirements" of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.


Michigan is the only state failing to meet enough special education requirements to need intervention, according to a recent evaluation by federal education officials.

The Department of Education breaks its annual evaluation on special education down into three categories: meets, needs assistance, needs intervention, and lastly “needs substantial intervention.” The state of Michigan spent the past four school years in the “needs assistance” category.

On June 28, the department sent a letter to State School Superintendent Sheila Alles, that stated "Michigan needs intervention in implementing the requirements" of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. 

On Tuesday, the Michigan Department of Education provided Stateside with a statement, which said, "We are reviewing the report and assessing its content. We will be looking into ways in which local school districts can better meet the needs of all of their students.”

The report found: of Michigan children with disabilities ages three to 21, 29% dropped out of school during the 2016-17 school year. Only 63% of children in special education graduated with a regular high school diploma. 

Marcie Lipsitt has been a special education advocate in the state for the past 20 years. She joined Stateside’s Cynthia Canty to discuss the changes she thinks are necessary. 

Lipsitt said many of the state’s shortcomings can be attributed to inadequate teacher education programs.

“I believe we need to overhaul our teacher education programs for special education and general education teachers so that they can provide the specialized instruction in reading and mathematics and in written expression that students who learn differently need so that they are meeting more of the requirements in the state of Michigan,” she said. 

She also said that education funding is not going directly to the classrooms where it needs to be. 

“I believe that we have answers but that there are many different moving parts and pieces,” Lipsitt said. “I believe one of the answers is that we need to direct a very thoughtful consolidation plan and reduce the number of school districts in Michigan and look at the reality of intermediate school districts in the year 2018. Why do we need 56 intermediate school districts? I don’t think we need all of them, I think they tend to be cash cows.”

We still do not know exactly what this intervention will mean for students with disabilities in Michigan. Lipsitt believes it won’t mean anything. 

“I have been a special education advocate and activist going back to my early high school years because of my younger sister,” Lipsitt said. “I have been an advocate and activist through presidents who are Democrats and Republicans and I have never seen what I am seeing now in Washington under Donald Trump and under Betsy DeVos, our education secretary. It's like the U.S. Department of Ed. is closed for business. There is no oversight at the federal level.” 

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Sophie Sherry. 

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