Fixing Special Education: 12 Steps to Transform a Broken System by Miriam Kurtzig Freedman

Fixing Special Education: 12 Steps to Transform a Broken System by Miriam Kurtzig Freedman ©2009 should be included in all teacher preparation programs and placed in the hands of policy makers who can address Miriam’s 12 transformative steps. It can also serve as an excellent resource for parents. Be sure to click at the bottom of any page to get copies. Also see my Ed Week post Why Does Special Education Have to be Special?

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman

  • Miriam is an attorney and former teacher who works with people who want better schools. As an immigrant to America at elementary-school-age, she was empowered by public schools and works to help educators teach all children. She works for the Boston firm of Stoneman, Chandler, & Miller where she gives lively and practical presentations, training, and consultations. She co-founded Special Education Day, authored eight books, has written for many national publications.


  • Miriam starts with a mention of the 1975 Individual’s with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and how it forced schools to offer appropriate education for all students with disabilities (SWD). As a result, all students with disabilities have access to education. She also notes that it has spawned a system that is too often focused on legal procedures rather than educational outcomes. It has become dysfunctional, producing a huge bureaucracy and warring stakeholders. The amount of litigation and fear of litigation is huge, which points to a system that is clearly broken. This book will not only help you understand this field better, it will also suggest 12 necessary steps for systemic reform. They aren’t all easy, but they are necessary. The key vision is to free schools from the bureaucratic stranglehold and fear of litigation so that we can get back to focusing on teaching and learning.

The Good News

  • Miriam highlights the idea that thanks to IDEA, schools can no longer turn students away just because they have high needs. We now have an inclusive approach and believe that all children can learn. Now nearly 14% of students in the US receive special education services. About 90% of the children served are not considered severely disabled, and it is this group that is the focus of this book.
  • The rates of growth in the cost and the number of SWD have outgrown the rates for regular education. The process of identification and the creation of individual education plans (IEPs) is slow and expensive and has become ever more complex and out of sync with reality. Since these services are required by law, they are paid for first and what’s left is used for everything else. As special education has expanded, so have unintended consequences as we deal with excesses of the civil rights movement. Even President Ford realized at the time of the law’s passing that it was promising more than it could deliver, and promised a ton of administrative paperwork. Now Miriam urges us to fix the system.
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