Celebrating the Success of All Students

Image of Secretary Duncan at the American Association of People with Disabilities Conference

“We can no longer celebrate the success of one group of students if another group of students is still struggling,” said Secretary Duncan last night at the American Association of People with Disabilities Conference in Washington, DC. “We have to be open and honest about where we fall short.”

For too long, the answer to educating students with disabilities was to isolate them and deny them the same educational experiences others were having. Those days are over. The fact is — 60 percent of students with disabilities today spend 80 percent of their time in the regular school environment.

Those numbers are a great improvement and there is no reason they should not keep rising as more and more teachers know how to effectively work with students with disabilities.

Secretary Duncan also vowed to end the so-called “2 percent rule” that obscures an accurate portrait of the academic needs of America’s students with disabilities.  He said that students with disabilities should be judged with the same accountability system as everyone else and that the Department of Education would not issue another policy that allows districts to disguise the educational performance of 2 percent of students.

Read Secretary Duncan’s remarks. See a video from his visit on Monday to Beers Elementary School in Washington, DC, a school that is successfully implementing an inclusion program.

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.


  1. The 2 percent rule does need to be eliminated. I know a rising 12th grader who has been educated in one Public School system in Maryland since grade 1, and is considered an “honors level” student. Assistance in writing is refused to him for 8 years. The school says he does not qualify because he passes tests and is above the “2 percent” mark on a standard deviation. They have no writing curriculum. His teachers yell and ask why he rights like that; one teacher denied him entrance to an AP Language class. He often receives failing marks in English Language classes, despite his native fluency in English. He is a Project Lead the Way student since grade 8. He challenges himself with AP classes, and passed his first AP in grade 10. At the end of senior year, in May 2012, he will have 5 Engineering classes, 5 Science classes-2AP, 5 Math classes, 5 History classes-4AP & 4 English classes-2AP. With the emphasis on STEM curricula, and fair and equitable education, it is apparent not all children are educated to their potential, and that children with disabilities are not treated with Equity. Our nation needs scientists and creative thinkers. Some are pushed in the back of the class and ridiculed when they do not fit the norm. Did not Einstein and other inventors receive the same treatment? I think it is time our nation rises into the 21st century with our education practices.

  2. As a Mom of a child with Down Syndrome and a regular ed teacher I see both sides of the situation. Both are frustrating for everyone involved. I have children in my classroom that are gifted, some that are special ed and many that are typical students–high, middle and low abilities. Fortunately I have paras to help. My own child had a terrible teacher the kindergarten year, so we moved schools. The teacher was wonderful this year,however, she has decided to stay home with her kids next year, so we have no idea who will teach come August. Our child is in a self-contained ID room. There are times when the children are allowed to participate with typical students, but no teacher at the schools want to include the ID students on a regular basis. Our child has many strengths as well as many disabilities. Progress would come quicker if there were more resources to fund more therapists. We can’t afford to pay for more therapy, so we are left with having to try to work out extra activities on our own. We wish there was someone in power that would listen to parents and teachers first and administrators and Board members second.

  3. I sympathize with the “regular” classroom teachers. I really do. But let me give you two different scenarios for a child with autism who is non-verbal (but has the potential to be verbal), mimics and could potentially have behavioral problems. Scenario 1: the child is lumped into a classroom with other non-verbal children with behavioral issues. Result: he doesn’t have the opportunity to mimic spoken language, yet many opportunities to copy unwanted behaviors from the other children in the self-contained “behavioral” class. Scenario 2: the child is placed in a typical classroom. Result: he learns appropriate behaviors and language from the typical environmental.

    What I would like to see Mr. Duncan do is strengthen ADA and 504 in relation to the educational system. If I, as a DoE employee or a parent attending an IEP meeting, am deaf DoE is required to provide accommodations under ADA or 504. However, this is not the case with my child. We have to “first exhaust administrative remedies under IDEA,” costing those involved money that could and should be spent on the child. Oftentimes, the evidence is clear cut and the DoJ or OCR could easily make a decision, be done with it and move on.

  4. Mr. Duncan, sounds good but not practical. As a special education teacher, middle grades certified teacher, and parent of a student with ADD; it is impractical most of the time to “include” students of all ability levels and expect each to perform to a standard that even gifted students struggle to meet. Whatever happened to meeting the needs of the students where they are? Math and Reading should be ability grouped in order to be successful. Does inclusion includes getting rid of the “Gifted” programs as well?

    • @Lovie, thank you for your comment. ED is committed to enabling every single American to reach their potential. As the Secretary has said, “Every child, regardless of income, race, background, or disability can learn and must learn, and our system of education, spread across 50 states, 15,000 school districts, and 95,000 schools, must embrace this core belief every day in every way possible.”

      That said, we understand that we have to move away from NCLB’s one-size-fits-all mentality, and empower local educators to tailor remedies to individual students–especially those most at risk. We need every school, district, and state take full responsibility for every single student.”

      If you have additional concerns or questions, I encourage you to visit ED’s Information Resource Center. Or contact the IRC by email at education@custhelp.com, or by phone between the hours of 9-5:00 Eastern Time at (800) USA-LEARN (800-872-5327). Spanish speakers are also available (se habla español). TTY (800) 437-0833.

  5. It is very sad to find that our public school failed to pass the state standards for meeting the education of all students special ed and mainstream in ELA.Further more that they are so disinterested in educating and supporting the special ed students .We have a child that has been on home instruction for 5 months because the school will not provide him with what he needs in a mainstream setting.The school doesn’t want to spend the money on creating a program that can not only help him but many other students that are being transported all over the place .Clearly this would save money and educate those students whose needs are in between inclusion and self contained .
    Home instruction is a cop out for this district further segreating and creating a most restrictive setting making the gaps of social /emotional bigger and bigger.

    • I can appreciate the frustration of parents with regard to school who don’t seem to “get it” when it comes to children with special needs. Unfortunately, I see it here in San Diego and I hear it from other parents as well. Schools in California are really hurting for funds and it is getting VERY difficult to get resources for children such as my son with autism. While he is higher functioning and has Asperger’s syndrome, he still can use additional resources. But funds simply do not seem to be there. It will be a continuing challenge as the state cuts funds. I worry that when he goes to college (he is thinking of attending a California State school) that the recent budget cuts will eliminate a lot of the services that are crucial for a special needs student to make it through.

      A big problem that a lot of autistic kids face is bullying and my son has had to deal with this throughout his school years. This is another area that many schools simply do not get…they think that bullying will always be present and that there is nothing they can do about it. There is a good article on
      Anti-Bullying Strategies for Autistic Kids
      which I think is a good start to helping parents help themselves. So many times when my wife and I complained to the school about the teasing and bullying, we got smiles and nods and nice sounding words but the problem persisted.

      I think we, as parents, will have to take the bull by the horns and take on a greater role than ever. Especially as funds get cut left and right.

  6. I am totally against inclusion for the simple reason that class sizes continue to increase and we as teachers are suppose to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of each child. I feel that special educators receive their credentials in order to better serve special needs children not become their school social workers. Today we have students who suffer from several disabilities, but for most teachers who work in urban areas not only do we have to teach to meet their learning disabilities but the behaior and mental illnesses that many of these childrens have developed. Within a math classroom of 35 students 10 of them may have learning disabilities and I have 50 minutes to teach them, so Arne Duncan can you develop a strategy for us to use to meet the needs of a 8 ADHD students without any medication, 1 suffering from autism, and a ten year old who has been treated in a mental hospital for Oppositional Defiant Disorder! We need to face the fact that inclusion is a ploy to save dollars and not fund education the way that it needs to be. Parents need to be outraged because many of our gifted and regular education students are constantly being left behind due to the unfair amount of attention that special needs students require because of inclusion.

  7. Educating students with disabilities in segregated settings only perpetuates the long-term outcome in which they will require more expensive, future care (which costs taxpayers more) and less value is placed on them. I have worked in special ed. for 17 years and see first-hand, daily, how successful students with significant disabilities can be when they are NOT separated from their peers. For instance, one young man I work with screams and becomes frustrated very easily when in the segregated environment. I won’t call it a classroom because the learning that occurs there prepares him for a segregated world. When he is in the general classrooms with other students he is quiet and does the same assignment as other students with minor accomodations. The other students learn there are people in their world who are not exactly like them, but they are not much different either. I consider that a major accomplishement for him, but am saddened that he has only been able to accomplish this at the high school level.

  8. As a special educator the idea of inclusion for all can be misleading. For students with learning disabilities the idea of inclusion should already be in practice but when it comes to students with severe developmental and behavioral disabilities it may not be the correct placement for them. That is why students have an IEP that is written by a team that includes the special education teacher, general education teacher, parents and other interested parties. The idea is that the student is getting what they need in the environment that suits that child. The idea of one environment fits all goes against the purpose of special education. Pullout services serve a purpose to provide intensive interventions for students and differentiation in the classroom though great to give students instruction in a different way may not give the student the extra support that they really need to succeed. Government and school officials beware, inclusion for all may seem like a good idea but maybe what is needed is students to be in the classroom for the time that is appropriate for that student. Logic needs to have a place in education.

  9. The people who are engaging in this discussion are obviously not teachers in regular education classrooms. Inclusion is a ‘nice’ idea, but is not practical. Special needs students need special attention. When special needs students are a part of regular classrooms, they require an unfair portion of the teacher’s time. The teacher must divert time and attention away from the ‘regular’ pupil. School hours are finite. Instructional minutes are precious. Requiring one teacher to meet the real and rigorous academic standards and performance objectives for both kinds of learners is impractical, inappropriate and ineffective. Teachers need to be frank and need to be honest: Special needs students need their own classrooms with their own teachers who have earned special credentials. As we all know, money is the issue. Throwing all of the students in one classroom is cheaper than the alternative which is providing the appropriate setting for both. Clumping all learners with a regular teacher is like clumping all ‘sick’ patients with a regular medical doctor. Special illnesses require specially trained doctors; special needs learners need specially trained teachers regardless of the cost.

  10. I am attending college now for my BA in elementary education. I have observed many classrooms in many different schools throughout the state of Illinois. I believe that parents should always have the right to send their child to the school of choice. This means if the parent believes their child would benefit more in a public setting that is where the child shall attend. If the child benefits more in a more private school setting that is for children with disabilities that is where they shall land. I do know that teachers deserve much more credit than they recieve. I hear talk from all over that places responsibilities and blame on teachers. I believe the parents should take more responsibility for their childs education whether they are disabled or not. The education of our children falls under the responsibility of all who are involved in the childs life!

  11. The Least Restrictive Environment for a Deaf child is a school for the Deaf, where the said child can communicate as independently as possible. A community school requires this child to depend on an interpreter all day long. Take into consideration a deaf child with a developmental disability. This child at a school for the Deaf sees language all around him/her all day, from custodial staff to administration. They have an opportunity to actually learn their language. Inclussion in a mainstream program is not Best for all children with disabilities, we need to look at each child and parents need to choose the Best placement for Their child.

  12. Inclusion will not work with all disabilities. There will always be a need for self-contained placement. If a child is functioning on a 2 year old level it would be ludicrous to place that child in an Algebra I class. For those students who are high-functioning, inclusion will work with a lot of extra help such as a learning lab or having aids in all of the classrooms. But since we don’t put education as a priority, funding is low in most states for schools thus denying schools the resources necessary for inclusion to work. I am a parent and I am an educator so I am not speaking theoretically.

  13. 95-98% of sll students with disabilities should be educated in regular ed classsrooms. Keep class size to 20 and be sure that the most effective teachers are teaching in them. Reduce and eliminate pull-outs; these programs just don’t work. Differentiate instruction, and provide accommodations and modifications to students in the classroom.

  14. This needs to be careful – the inclusion policy in the UK has gone too far and now parents of children with difficulties are being forced to send their children to regular schools against their own wishes…

    If this is a choice and is in the child’s interests then it is good – if it goes too far then it just one more battle for parents to face…

  15. Thank you so much for this. My kids are smart and can do anything. Now Schools of Education will have to teach the teachers of reading how to teach reading to all kinds of learners!
    The USA must change their contract with their Public Education System. If we don’t the USA is sunk. Not the teacher’s but they will have to adapt.
    No more “each building is a kingdom” and free to follow the wins of fads. Now it is accountability for all.

    Next, we need to demand better parenting by parents. Tax breaks for parenting classes with objectives of parenting for a kid’s educational outcome in mind.

  16. I applaud Secretary Duncan for vowing to end the 2% rule and embrace the philosophy of inclusion. It is the only way to move forward with students with disabilities in our society today. I have three children, two of which are learning disabled, and as my 2007 graduate experienced the ‘special ed’ curriculum and struggles today in college, my future graduate of 2013 is benefiting greatly from the inclusion philosophy. The two both with the same learning disability, yet the one who has so greatly experienced inclusion in the classroom succeeds in his schoolwork at such a higher level. The future of our children lies in including them in every aspect of the learning community with the services and supports available to them. Again, thank you Secretary Duncan for your vision and commitment to an inclusive education for our children!

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