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Parents & Experts Bring Unified Message to Congress

Written by Meghan Casey, Policy Research & Advocacy Associate | March 26, 2015

 “Your son Johnny is a great kid, but don’t expect that he’ll go to college.”

“Your daughter Janie tries so hard, but math is just something she won’t ever be able to learn.”

All too often, these are the messages heard by parents of children with disabilities. These parents can often make a long list of things they’ve been told their child will “never” do.

But parents, teachers, advocates and experts know better. Kids with disabilities can do amazing things when we support them and set high expectations for them. And we’re working hard to erase stereotypes and clear up myths about how they can succeed.

Last week, NCLD hosted a briefing in the U.S. Senate. We brought six extraordinary people to Congress to help change long-held perceptions of students with disabilities. The message they delivered to Senators was simple: when we set high expectations and hold schools accountable, students can achieve great things!

Lisa Blottenberger shared her personal journey as a parent of a daughter who has dyslexia. She compared the trajectories of two young girls with the same dyslexia diagnosis, exploring how the interventions and accommodations provided at different points along their journey impacted their success. She highlighted the critical impact of parents, teachers and other adults who set high expectations for students.

Two researchers from the American Institute for Research (AIR) were next. Louis Danielson and Jenifer Harr-Robins shared evidence showing that schools who include students with disabilities in accountability systems also tend to:

  • Have a higher percentage of students with disabilities spending most of the school day in general education classes;
  • Provide 2-3 hours/day of extra instruction in reading and math for students with disabilities; and
  • Provide general and special educators with 3 or more days professional development related to teaching students with disabilities.

Three other distinguished advocates also testified. Margaret McLaughlin is a long-time special educator and professor at the University of Maryland. She spoke about education reform over the last few decades and the benefits to kids with disabilities. Tom Hehir and Laura Schifter are professors at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and co-authors of “How Did You Get Here? Students with Disabilities and Their Journeys to Harvard.”  Schifter shared a historical perspective, noting how harmful policies in the past set low expectations for kids. Hehir shared data revealing that students with disabilities who are included in general education settings fare better on tests and graduate at higher rates than those who spend more time in separate special education settings.

Though the panelists each provided a unique perspective, they had a unified message — parents, teachers, and students all play a role in the success of students with disabilities. Parents must be empowered to challenge low expectations. Teachers must be supported and prepared to address challenges early. Students must be provided with the supports and accommodations needed to succeed.

NCLD brought this message directly to Congress. We shared it in the heart of the Senate with staff of our elected officials. If you’d like to tell Congress what you think, you can do so through NCLD’s advocacy center.


See photos from the Senate briefing here:

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Lindsay Jones, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy, National Center for Learning Disabilities

 

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Lindsay Jones (NCLD) providing introductions of panelists.

 

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Margaret McLaughlin,  Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education, a Professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Maryland, College Park, and Chair of the National Center for Learning Disabilities Policy Committee.

 

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Lisa Blottenberger, parent of three children, a former elementary school teacher in Montgomery County, co-founder of Decoding Dyslexia Maryland, and has dyslexia herself.

 

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Jen Harr-Robins, co-author of the American Institutes for Research/Institute of Education Sciences report on “School Practices and Accountability for Students with Disabilities.”

 

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Lou Danielson, co-author of the American Institutes for Research/Institute of Education Sciences report on “School Practices and Accountability for Students with Disabilities.”

 

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Panelists from left to right: Laura Schifter, Tom Hehir, Lisa Blottenblerger, Lou Danielson.

 

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Attendees of the briefing during panelist presentations.

 

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Laura Schifter, Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and co-author of How Did You Get Here? Students with Disabilities and Their Journeys to Harvard; former senior education and disability advisor for former Congressman George Miller.

 

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Panelists from left to right: Tom Hehir, Lisa Blottenblerger, Laura Schifter (standing), Margaret McLaughlin, Jen Harr-Robins, Lou Danielson.

 

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Thomas Hehir, Professors at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and co-author of How Did You Get Here? Students with Disabilities and Their Journeys to Harvard; former Director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs.

 

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Panelists following the presentations; left to right: Jen Harr-Robins, Lindsay Jones, Tom Hehir, Lou Danielson.

 

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Parent advocates of Decoding Dyslexia in Washington, DC for the Senate Briefing are joined by panelists for this photo. Left to right: Lindsay Jones (NCLD); Lisa Blottenberger of Decoding Dyslexia Maryland; Joan Moore of Decoding Dyslexia Virginia; Tom Hehir (Harvard Professor and former OSEP Director); Cloe Chin and Nancy Hervey of Decoding Dyslexia Virginia.

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