In this article, I briefly review the background for the latest iteration of federal special education policy, the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education (Improvement) Act or IDEA. With a slight apology to ardent advocates for parents and children with disabilities, I then suggest ways that they and their clients can set aside their concerns about a diluted statute and learn to live with a changed legal landscape — and perhaps even flourish in an educational system that aims to raise the standards for all students. With each cycle of program review, policy revisitation and legislative revision, those who speak for students and their families must adapt to new language and concepts. Some of the adaptations are cosmetic or pragmatic, and other revisions are genuinely intended to affect positive change for students.
In navigating the legal process, I urge that advocates: (1) embrace some of IDEA's new provisions and make the best of others; (2) aggressively monitor the Administration's other major educational reform — The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001; and (3) effectively use interest group organizational strategies. After waging a vigorous battle in Congress to keep the IDEA intact, it is the task of advocates to shape the remaining legal text in ways that ultimately enhance the learning and lives of student clients. Advocates must engage in new tactics to mitigate what we see as damaging changes, and yet be open to honest and critical reflection on changes that may actually be harmless or even beneficial.
15 Hastings Women's L. J. 1 (2003).