All means all, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said during his keynote address to the IDEA Leadership Conference last week. “Children with disabilities are a part of, not separate from, the general education population,” he said.
The annual gathering brings together Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part B State Directors, IDEA Part C Coordinators, Preschool Coordinators, Parent Center leaders, and other Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) technical assistance providers, and aims to support better outcomes for infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities and their families. There are more than six million children with disabilities in the U.S. and Duncan noted that there is still work still to be done to improve educational outcomes for students with disabilities.
One of Duncan’s priorities during his second term is President Obama’s Preschool for All plan. Duncan said that through the plan “we have an opportunity to give every child in America an equal chance to succeed.”
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has a long, successful history of ensuring that infants, toddlers and preschoolers with disabilities have access to early education services. We will use what we have learned from those programs as we move forward in supporting the development of high-quality preschool programs for 4-year-olds.
Currently, of the nearly 746,000 preschool children served in IDEA-funded preschool programs, about 35 percent are in segregated settings. We want to see all children participating fully in quality, inclusive programs.
Duncan said that the Preschool for All proposal will result in more inclusive early education options for preschoolers with disabilities. This increase in options will help to identify children with disabilities earlier, giving them a strong start.
Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education