Discussion Starter: Educational Benefit, Pt. 2

Back in January, I wrote about Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. The US Supreme Court recently reached a unanimous decision in the case, siding with the family. Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools caught national attention earlier this year, partly because of a cute dog. This latest decision became attached to Neil Gorsuch’s Senate testimony per his ruling in a similar case. Both cases briefly stirred headlines for reasons other than their importance in special education.

Endrew F. eclipses Fry in potential magnitude. The core of the case is educational benefit. Must schools ensure students with IEPs simply make some measurable progress, or must they prove this progress is meaningful? The Supreme Court has found something closer to the latter, with the ruling mandating schools must prove students are making appropriate progress per each student’s circumstance. Although the difference might seem subtle, the scope is enormous. Future special education teachers will study this case as undergraduates.

“Appropriate progress” will be the focus of case-by-case deliberation, but it’s a leap from the previous requirement of schools to demonstrate discernible growth within a student’s program. The new implication suggests there is an acceptable range of progress for each student. Defining this range could be difficult. Some families will reject any deterministic range based on evaluation findings that the schools offer. Some might interpret “appropriate progress” as needing to be aligned with age and grade level progress. Such a conception of progress would be ideal, but in many cases would belie the range of abilities that led to a special education evaluation. Regardless, the built-in controversy seems to forecast a bumper crop of due process hearings.

As with Fry, advocates have heralded the decision in Endrew F. as a victory for students with disabilities. I wonder if it will be. My prediction is the same schools that currently struggle to meet the requirements of IDEA and of existing IEPs will continue to struggle. Now families will have more leverage to come after these schools for compensatory education when students fail to make “appropriate (and possibly unrealistic) progress.” I suspect this ruling will do at least as much to create additional settlements as it will to help students with disabilities get better at reading, writing, or doing math. It certainly will increase pressure on schools and might set some up to lose.

Any thoughts from readers? How will IEP teams define “appropriate?” To what degree will this decision shift special education in practice and even in concept? Does anyone else see this as a path to increased litigation? Share your insights in the comments.




Discussion Starter: Educational Benefit, Pt. 2

4 thoughts on “Discussion Starter: Educational Benefit, Pt. 2

  1. Jeffrey I love your blog as usual. As a blogger I find a dilemma here since I very much want a variety of commenters on my own blog, and I find it frustrating as heck when the same people continue and continue to comment….eeeks, I don’t mind them, nor dislike them, it’s just that I want variety. That said, for that reason, I told myself, Geez, Julie, SHUT UP, Jeffrey is probably sick of you by now, just cut the crap…..But, I love your questions and I can’t help it, having been a kid who kept raising her hand (especially in college) calling out, “Me! Me!” since I wanted to shout out the answer..Oh, how obnoxious…..

    I was not a teacher but I think all the time about how to make schools better. I was not a “special ed” kid, either. I was in “smart kid” classes and never heard the end of that, got jeered at in the lunch room, after school, and any time the kids could get away with it. How can they do that better so kids like me don’t get singled out?

    I think the new ruling means “progress per the school.” We’re talking the school’s progress AKA the administrators maybe, and they won’t even consult the kid, nor the parents, nor the kid’s teachers, the ones that do the work. Money, Jeffrey, it will follow the money.

    I was meaning to ask you something. I saw a thingy online about this thing called “job corps.” This is a college thing for people who come from a “disadvantaged” background. To get into the program they have to submit grades, income, and also prove citizenship, also prove ID and prove residency, also they must submit to a cirminal background check AND looks like also an IEP/psych eval. Now that was how it showed up there, with that slash mark. I was going to pick up the phone and call. Did this mean they HAD to do the IEP, or HAD to submit to a psych eval? This is scary. Already they’re pinned as “low income” so profiling is already a risk. I can’t recall about drug testing. Looks like it’s not even worth it for these kids. What next, bars on their windows?

    If you lived nearby I would love to sit down for coffee and talk school for hours.


    1. Julie: I always appreciate your comments. Don’t feel for a second like you’re a bother in any way.

      First, in Endrew F., progress will be per the student and not the school. The progress in question is progress towards meeting IEP goals, which might (but not always) be tied to progress in the general education curriculum. This becomes a reflection of the school however, because the assumption is that if the student isn’t making progress, the school isn’t providing enough (or the right kind of) support. Money certainly will be an influential factor, as schools could stand to face compensatory education settlements in due process cases that prove students aren’t making appropriate progress. These settlements aren’t likely to help students develop skills, but they are likely to be expensive.

      Second, to my knowledge, Job Corps is a Dept. of Labor initiative to provide opportunities for young people facing “barriers to employment.” The “barriers” include disabilities. A psy. eval or IEP from a school might be a candidate’s only proof of a disability affecting reading, writing, or math. Thus, Job Corp is likely in its right to request this. In other situations, like applying to college or to a job on the open market, the individual has the option to disclose a disability and the organization isn’t supposed to ask. Per Job Corp, the point of the service is to help people who have built-in disadvantages, but they need a mechanism for proving the disadvantages exist. I don’t know much about the overall effectiveness of Job Corps (placements per applicants, length of placements, competitive job hirings after service with Job Corps, etc.).


  2. Thanks for explaining this, Jeffrey. The thing is, if a student wants to claim a disability that’s one thing, and it might help on the application of course, but I don’t think the disability statement or psych evaluation should be mandatory unless the student chooses to use it as part of the application. He/she very well may qualify without it, maybe due to family income.


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