No serious person thinks students who require special education should not get it. It's undeniable, however, that public schools have a history of shunting into special education classes many students who suffer from no learning disability but who may simply lag academically for one reason or another, or who have trouble behaving. That's why a move away from special education as an out for schools or an entitlement for parents (who often love its special services), and a move toward early intervention in the educations of at-risk students, is a promising sign. In the counties of suburban Washington, D.C., special education enrollments are dropping: since 1999, the special education enrollment in Charles County, Maryland, public schools has fallen to 8 percent from 12 percent, and in Frederick County, Maryland, it dropped to 11 percent from 17 percent. At least part of this change is a response to a 2004 rewrite of the federal special education law, which allowed districts more flexibility in using funding for early intervention techniques. (Some do this incredibly well.) John J. Lody, the diagnostic services supervisor in Loudoun County, Virginia, said he doesn't like to test for special education before trying such intervention tactics. "We try to make smart referrals," he said. Parents are upset by this approach, but when push comes to shove, it's the right thing to do.
"Waiting Too Late to Test?," by Michael Alison Chandler, Washington Post, December 31, 2007