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November 19, 2014 at 6:04 AM

Task forces: a place where “good ideas go to die”

A major problem for special education is the term “special education.”

A new report examining Washington’s special education programs calls for the governor to establish a 12-person commission to revamp the current system. But, steer clear of the terms “special education” or “task force,” the report insists. “Blue Ribbon Commission” sounds much better.

The recommendation comes from representatives of 138 social, health, educational, parent, student and child advocacy groups with a stake in special education that provided input for the report.

They determined that using special education or task force in the name of the new commission could keep the the group from effectively carrying out its mission. (Read more about that here.)

Task force was ruled out because, as the report states, “The term ‘task force’ was generally not desirable, some suggesting the term connotes a place ‘where good ideas go to die.’”

The case against special education points to a larger problem that happens when educators say “special education.” Students often do not want to be associated with the term and within schools, those programs often seem isolated.

“Kids (with disabilities) avoid getting help because they have to be labeled and identified,” said Stacy Gallett, director of the state’s Office of the Education Ombuds, the agency that produced the report. “They get stigmatized.”

So, would using “Blue Ribbon” better serve the commission? At first, that term made me think of a first place animal at the state fair.

This goat won a blue ribbon in 2013 at the  Goatalympics at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

This goat won a blue ribbon in 2013 at the Goatalympics at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

But, turns out the governments and elected leaders assign Blue Ribbon to panels or commissions made up of the top experts in a particular field chosen to analyze an issue, according to Wikipedia. The U.S. government assembled a Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future from 2010 to 2012. Washington has a Governor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Parks and Outdoor Recreation.

As the report makes it clear, Washington’s special education program needs serious upgrades. Perhaps giving 12 people the title of “Blue Ribbon” will add a sense of empowerment and urgency unlike the use of the term “Czar” for government appointees.

We’re not talking the state fair or Russian rulers. We’re talking about improving the education and lives of Washington’s 135,000 special education students.

Regardless of what the commission is named, what matters most is that its work is indeed blue ribbon (which as an adjective means excellent).

Comments | Topics: blue ribbon commission, special education, washington state

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