NASET News Alert

Hurricane Education Recovery Act

May 26, 2006

Key Policy Letters Signed by the Education Secretary or Deputy Secretary

December 30, 2005

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings today announced that President Bush signed into law the Hurricane Education Recovery Act. The legislation authorizes three new grant programs to assist school districts and schools in meeting the educational needs of students displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and in helping schools that were closed as a result of the hurricanes to reopen as quickly and effectively as possible.

The new programs are as follows:

(1) Emergency Impact Aid for Displaced Students

Under this program, the Department will award emergency impact aid funding to State educational agencies (SEAs). SEAs will, in turn, provide assistance to local educational agencies (LEAs) for the cost of educating students enrolled in public and non-public schools who were displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita during the school year 2005-2006.

Congress has appropriated $645 million for the Emergency Impact Aid program. The Department will make four quarterly payments to SEAs based on quarterly counts of displaced students enrolled in public and non-public schools. States will make payments to LEAs based on those counts.

To receive funding, eligible SEAs will need to provide, on an expedited basis as required by the statute, data and other application information that we will be requesting shortly. Based on this information, the Department will promptly make initial payments to SEAs.

(2) Assistance for Homeless Youth

This program will provide a separate source of funding to SEAs to address the needs of homeless students displaced by Hurricanes Katrina or Rita. The Department will use data on displaced public school students collected under the Emergency Impact Aid program to make allocations under the Assistance for Homeless Youth program.

Congress has appropriated $5 million for this program. The Department will be making awards to SEAs in the near future. After receiving their allocations, SEAs will award subgrants to LEAs on the basis of demonstrated need. LEAs must use the funds awarded under this program to support activities that are allowable under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.

(3) Immediate Aid to Restart School Operations

Under this program, the Department is authorized to award funds to the SEAs in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Alabama. These SEAs, in turn, will provide assistance or services to LEAs and non-public schools to help defray expenses related to the restart of operations in, the reopening of, and the re-enrollment of students in, elementary and secondary schools that serve an area in which a major disaster has been declared related to Hurricanes Katrina or Rita.

Congress has appropriated $750 million for the Restart program. States, LEAs, and non-public schools in the affected areas have incurred and continue to incur considerable expenses as they seek to reopen schools and are in urgent need of financial assistance. In order to help meet those needs, the Department will immediately provide $100 million to Louisiana, $100 million to Mississippi, $50 million to Texas, and $3.75 million to Alabama under the Restart program. Consistent with the legislation, in determining the final, aggregate allocations, the Department will take into consideration the number of students who were enrolled, during the 2004-2005 school year, in elementary and secondary schools that were closed on September 12, 2005, as a result of Hurricane Katrina, or on October 7, 2005, as a result of Hurricane Rita, and other relevant factors.

No Child Left Behind

May 26, 2006

Connecticut Sues Over No Child Left Behind Law

On Monday, August 23, 2005, the state of Connecticut filed a lawsuit in U.S. Disdtrict Court in Hartford against the federal government over the No Child Left Behind Act.  They are the first state to do so since the law's enactment in 2002.  Connecticut makes the claim that the Bush administration has not provided enough money to pay for new testing and programs, and accused the Bush administration of being "rigid, arbitrary and capricious" in the enforcement of its signature education law.....and is seeking relief from a requirement that it scrap its own testing program in favor of one the state says will not help children but will cost millions.  The lawsuit requests a judge to declare that state and local funds cannot be used to meet the goals of the law. 
To read more about this very controversial issue visit:

It should be noted that as of this News Alert, no formal response to the lawsuit has been issued by the U.S. Department of Education.  However, in April of 2005, Acting Director of Public Affairs DJ Nordquist released the following statement regarding action by Connecticut's attorney general on the state's intent to file a lawsuit on the No Child Left Behind Act:
"The President and Secretary Spellings believe that all children can learn and that schools and districts should be held accountable for the academic achievement of every child. That's why it is very disappointing that officials in Connecticut are spending their time hiring lawyers while Connecticut's students are suffering from one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation?according to Connecticut's own Mastery Test, Hispanic and African American eighth-graders are as high as 40 percentage points behind their white counterparts.

"No Child Left Behind simply asks states to set their own levels of achievement and to measure all students annually to ensure that each and every one?regardless of skin color, sex or where a student lives?is learning. The basis for the state's lawsuit appears to rest on a flawed 'cost study' of the No Child Left Behind Act that creates inflated projections built upon questionable estimates and misallocation of costs.

"This is a sad day for students of Connecticut. Connecticut has received over $750 million in No Child Left Behind federal funds since the law was signed. Instead of addressing the issue at hand, the state has chosen to attack a law that is designed to assist the students most in need?and those whom these funds directly help."

Center for Rural Education Established at U.S. Department of Education

May 26, 2006

December 16, 2005 Tucson, Ariz. — The U.S. Department of Education today announced the creation of the Center for Rural Education to address challenges facing rural schools and named former U.S. Commissioner of Education William L. Smith as its director. Housed within the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) and working in tandem with the Secretary's Task Force for Rural Education, the center will serve as an information resource for policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels. Beto Gonzalez, acting assistant secretary for the Education Department's Office of Vocational and Adult Education, made the announcement in remarks to a national meeting of the Council of Chief State School Officers in Tucson, Ariz. Gonzalez also chairs the department's Rural Education Task Force, which met this week in Washington to discuss efforts to promote excellence in rural education through the No Child Left Behind Act. In a statement from Washington, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings hailed the creation of the new center and said, "I believe that every child, including those who attend a rural school, deserves the benefit of a quality education promised under No Child Left Behind." "I am committed to addressing the needs of our students, educators, and parents in rural America," the secretary said. "This new center will take a leadership role in advancing the cause of rural education." The center's director, William Smith, was the last U.S. commissioner of education in the former Office of Education, located in the former Department of Health, Education and Welfare, before it became a separate department in 1980. Since that time, Smith has served in various management roles within the Education Department. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that nearly 42 percent of the nation's public schools are in rural communities or small towns. A primary goal of the center will be to update The Condition of Education in Rural Schools, a report last released by the U.S. Department of Education in 1994. The center will also host a series of focus groups and forums to highlight issues facing rural education. The Office of Vocational and Adult Education in which the center will be located has a long history of helping rural America. For years, the office has included liaison staff to the National FFA Organization, formerly known as the Future Farmers of America. The No Child Left Behind Act is the bipartisan landmark education reform law designed to change the culture of America's schools by closing the achievement gap, offering more flexibility to states, giving parents more information and options and teaching students based on what works. Under the law's strong accountability provisions, states must describe how they will close the achievement gap and make sure all students, including those with disabilities, achieve academically. More information about the Center for Rural Education is available at:

Proposed Regulations to be Published in the Federal Registry

May 26, 2006

To Raise Achievement of Students with Disabilities, Greater Flexibility Available for States, Schools Proposed Regulations to be Published in Federal Register

December 14, 2005

From the U.S. Department of Education

COLUMBIA, Md. -- U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings today announced proposed regulations to enhance the ability of schools and states to more effectively measure the achievement of America's students with disabilities.

With No Child Left Behind, parents, teachers, and the federal government committed to closing the achievement gap by 2014 for all children including students with disabilities. Ensuring that all students can read and do math on grade level remains a top priority.

Speaking to more than 100 policymakers and educators at Guilford Elementary School in Columbia, Md., Secretary Spellings said, "We're committed to using the best research to make sure students with disabilities are learning and taking tests that are meaningful to them."

The proposed rules to be published in Thursday's Federal Register are designed to meet the needs of students with disabilities who may not reach grade level within the same time frame as their peers, but who can make significant strides, given the right instruction.

Following is the prepared text of Secretary Spellings' remarks.

SECRETARY SPELLINGS: Thank you. You're lucky to have Nancy Grasmick as your superintendent in Maryland. She began her career in Baltimore as a teacher working with deaf students, and she's been a leader on special education issues in the policy arena as well. She's been a powerful voice for higher standards and accountability for results for all students.

Before I begin, let me say, tomorrow we'll have the chance to see history unfold before our eyes in Iraq. Millions of men and women—ordinary Iraqis—will show extraordinary courage as they take their place at polls all across the country. The people of Iraq will come together to defy terror and elect a parliamentary government. And they will be sending a powerful message of hope throughout the Middle East.

It's an honor to be here today at Guilford Elementary School with my deputy secretary, Ray Simon. I want to thank Principal Varlack for sharing her school with us today. I get asked all the time to point to places that are closing the achievement gap and proving we can leave no child behind. And this school is getting the job done for all students, including students with disabilities. The percentage of students here with disabilities meeting state standards in reading has increased by 17 points since just 2003. And the gap between all students and students with disabilities is shrinking in reading.

Just a few years ago, this school was falling short of standards. But you made improvements under No Child Left Behind. And today, you're a shining example for schools across the country. You're proving every child can learn with a quality education.

The key is setting high expectations for all students. And for parents like Catriona Johnson that makes all the difference. I met with Catriona and a group of other parents of students with disabilities earlier today. Catriona's son has autism, but his teachers here at Guilford saw his potential. And they worked with his mom to give him the support and instruction he needed.

As many of us know, it wasn't always like this for parents of students with disabilities. When I was in school—and it wasn't all that long ago—many states still had policies excluding students with disabilities from public schools. In 1970, schools in this country only educated one in five students with disabilities.

That all started to change when Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975. Last month, we celebrated the 30th anniversary of this law, which is now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA. It guarantees students with disabilities access to a free and appropriate public education. More than two decades after Brown v. Board of Education opened the schoolhouse to students of all races, this law opened our schools to students with disabilities.

As a result, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of students with disabilities graduating from high school and taking challenging courses. Today, virtually all these students take the full range of academic classes. That includes classes in English, math, social studies, science, and more. In fact, about one out of every five high school students with a disability is learning a foreign language.

We've come a long way in the last 30 years. But before No Child Left Behind, we still often underestimated what students with disabilities could learn. Many were victims of what President Bush calls the "soft bigotry of low expectations." We held them to lower standards, and we didn't hold ourselves accountable for their success.

Today, we know the vast majority of students with disabilities can achieve grade-level standards. And thanks to No Child Left Behind, we are holding ourselves accountable for making sure they do. For the first time ever, we as a nation have made a commitment to close the achievement gap by 2014 and ensure all students can read and do math on grade level.

That's why we're asking states to annually assess students and then break down the results by student groups so we can be sure all students, including students with disabilities, are getting ahead. For example, in the 2003-04 school year, about 95 percent of students with disabilities participated in state reading assessments.

As a result, we now have a laser-like focus on helping these students. Special education is no longer a peripheral issue. IDEA and NCLB have put the needs of students with disabilities front and center. We've torn down the final barrier between special and general education. And now every one in the system has a stake in ensuring students with disabilities achieve high standards.

At the same time, we know not all students learn the same way. And we want to give states the flexibility to design assessments that match the needs of their students. We're committed to using the best research to make sure students with disabilities are learning and taking tests that are meaningful to them.

As you know, No Child Left Behind already allows students with the most significant cognitive disabilities—about 1 percent of all students—to take alternate assessments. Further research suggests that an additional 2 percent of students should be assessed with modified standards. These are students who can achieve high standards but may not reach grade level in the same time frame as their peers, even with the best instruction.

Last spring, I announced the Department would work with states to help them establish more appropriate assessments for these students. And 31 states, including Maryland, Tennessee, and North Dakota, signed up to implement this policy for this school year.

Today, we are taking the next step forward by releasing proposed regulations on how states can implement this new policy long term. These regulations provide guidance on how states can identify these students and modify grade-level standards for them. We have published the proposed regulations in the Federal Register, and I want to invite you all to comment on them. We want your input.

I want to thank my assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, Henry Johnson, and my assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services, John Hager, for being here today and for working together to develop this policy.

We're providing states with a technical assistance packet today on raising achievement for students with disabilities. It includes information on how NCLB and IDEA work together for students. And in the next few months, we'll also be releasing more material and information on teaching and assessing students with disabilities. At its heart, this policy is all about improving the way we educate and assess children with disabilities. It's a smarter, more sophisticated way of serving their needs.

Since taking office in January, I've been traveling around the country talking with parents, educators, and policymakers about how No Child Left Behind is working and what needs to work better. And wherever I go, I hear the same three questions: How can we do a better job assessing and serving students with disabilities? What's the best way to measure and enhance the progress of students new to the English language? And how can we reward schools for improving from year to year?

I promised to work with folks like you to address these issues in a sensible, workable way that makes raising student achievement our top priority. We're open to new ideas, just so long as we all stick to what I call the bright lines of the law—annually assessing students, disaggregating data, and closing the achievement gap by 2014. And we've taken some important steps forward together.

For example, last month, I announced a new pilot program where states can apply to use growth models to measure the progress students and schools make from year to year. And we've been working with the nation's top researchers to study the best way to educate and assess students new to the English language as well as students with disabilities.

With all these measures, our focus has been on helping students who in the past have been left behind. And states like Maryland, Massachusetts, Kansas, North Dakota, and Tennessee have been leading the way by shining the light on strategies that work for students with disabilities.

I want to thank Tennessee Commissioner of Education Lana Seivers for being here along with North Dakota special educator director Bob Rutten. They understand that ensuring students with disabilities learn is everybody's issue.

Last year, over 90 percent of districts in North Dakota made adequate yearly progress targets for students with disabilities. And in Tennessee, the percentage of elementary and middle school students with disabilities meeting state standards in reading increased by 15 points. These states have used the best research to ensure all students are included in the general curriculum and annual assessments. I like to say, "What gets measured gets done."

We're seeing the hard work pay off across the country. The latest nation's education report card showed students with disabilities are making gains at every level in both reading and math. And they're catching up to their peers, particularly in reading. As I like to say, "In God we trust—all others bring data." And with this data, we can see we're moving in the right direction. Scores are rising. And the achievement gap is closing. In other words, No Child Left Behind is working, and we must stick with it.

For folks like Lana Seivers, this isn't just a policy issue. It's a family issue. Her son has a disability. And for the last three decades, she's been fighting to raise standards for students with disabilities as a teacher, as an administrator, as a policymaker, and as a mom.

And thanks to No Child Left Behind, the conversation has finally shifted from "can these students learn" to "how can we make sure they learn." For the first time ever, we're demanding results. It's a national priority. And it's the right thing to do for parents and students across this country.

Thank you.

School Violence Rate at Lowest Level Since 1992

May 26, 2006

November 23, 2005: Violent crime rates in the nation's schools, unchanged between 2002 and 2003, remained at about half those recorded in 1992, according to a new report released today by the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice. The report, Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2005, said the rate of violent crime victims in schools declined from 48 per thousand students in 1992 to 28 per thousand in 2003. In 2003, students ages 12 to 18 were victims of about 740,000 violent crimes and 1.2 million crimes of theft at school, according to the report. Seven percent of students in that age range reported that they had been bullied. Twenty-nine percent of high school students reported that drugs were made available to them on school property, and 9 percent of students were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property. Indicators is the eighth in a series of annual reports produced by the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics, within the Institute of Education Sciences, and the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics. Issued each fall, the reports present the most recent data available on school crime and student and staff safety. The report indicates that students are twice as likely to be victims of serious violence away from school. In 2003, there were 12 such crimes per 1,000 students away from school and six crimes per 1,000 students at school. In the 2002-03 school year, there were 15 student homicides and 8 student suicides in the nation's schools, figures that translate to less than one homicide or suicide per million students. Other highlights of the joint report: <typolist> The rate of in-school thefts declined from 95 per 1,000 students in 1992 to 45 per 1,000 in 2003. The rate of thefts away from school also declined, from 68 per 1,000 students in 1992 to 28 per 1,000 in 2003. The proportion of students ages 12 to 18 who reported they skipped school or extracurricular activities or avoided specific places in school because they were fearful decreased from 7 percent in 1999 to 5 percent in 2003. The proportion of students who reported that schools lock entrance or exit doors during the day out of concern for student safety increased from 38 percent to 53 percent between 1999 and 2003. In 2003, 5 percent of students ages 12 to 18 reported being victimized at school during the previous six months: 4 percent reported theft, while 1 percent said they were victims of a violent crime. In 2003, 21 percent of students between 12 and 18 reported that street gangs were present at their school during the previous six months. In 2003, 33 percent of high school students reported having been in a fight anywhere, and 13 percent said they had been in a fight on school property during the preceding 12 months. In 2003, students in urban schools were twice as likely as students in rural and suburban schools to fear being attacked at school or on the way to and from school. </typolist> The complete text of the report is available online at: . Copies can be ordered by calling 1-877-4ED-Pubs (TTY/TDD 1-877-576-7734), by email at , or online at

Supreme Court Rules on Burden of Proof Case Under IDEA

May 26, 2006

U.S. Supreme Court Rules Against Parents in Burden of Proof Case Under The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Yesterday, an important U.S. Supreme Court Decision was handed down regarding special education and the the procedural rights of parents.  In the case Schaffer v. Weast, the question presented to the Court was:

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, when parents of a disabled child and a local school district reach an impasse over the child's individualized education program, either side has a right to bring the dispute to an administrative hearing officer for resolution. At the hearing, which side has the burden of proof - the parents or the school district?

Oral arguments in Schaffer v. Weast were made on October 5, 2005. The decision was handed down on November 14, 2005.

O’CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEVENS, SCALIA, KENNEDY, SOUTER, and THOMAS, J., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a concurring opinion. GINSBURG, J., and BRAYER, J., filed dissenting opinions.ROBERTS, C. J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

In a 6-2 decision, the Court held that there was no reason to depart from the ordinary legal rule that the person filing suit carries the burden of proof....The burden of proof in an administrative hearing challenging an IEP is properly placed upon the party seeking relief.

Summarizing the case, the Court wrote:

To ensure disabled children a “free appropriate public education,” 20 U. S. C. A. §1400(d)(1)(A), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA or Act) requires school districts to create an “individualized education program” (IEP) for each disabled child, §1414(d), and authorizes parents challenging their child’s IEP to request an “impartial due process hearing,” §1415(f), but does not specify which party bears the burden of persuasion at that hearing.

After an IDEA hearing initiated by petitioners, the Administrative Law Judge held that they bore the burden of persuasion and ruled in favor of respondents. The District Court reversed, concluding that the burden of persuasion is on the school district. The Fourth Circuit reversed the District Court, concluding that petitioners had offered no persuasive reason to depart from the normal rule of allocating the burden to the party seeking relief. Held: The burden of persuasion in an administrative hearing challenging an IEP is properly placed upon the party seeking relief, whether that is the disabled child or the school district. Pp. 6–12.(a)

Because IDEA is silent on the allocation of the burden of persuasion, this Court begins with the ordinary default rule that plaintiffs bear the burden regarding the essential aspects of their claims. Although the ordinary rule admits of exceptions, decisions that place the entire burden of persuasion on the opposing party at the outset of a proceeding—as petitioners urge the Court to do here—are extremely rare. Absent some reason to believe that Congress intended otherwise, the Court will conclude that the burden of persuasion lies where it usually falls, upon the party seeking relief. Pp. 6–8.

(b) Petitioners’ arguments for departing from the ordinary default rule are rejected. Petitioners’ assertion that putting the burden of persuasion on school districts will help ensure that children receive a free appropriate public education is unavailing. Assigning the burden to schools might encourage them to put more resources into preparing IEPs and presenting their evidence, but IDEA is silent about whether marginal dollars should be allocated to litigation and administrative expenditures or to educational services. There is reason to believe that a great deal is already spent on IDEA administration, and Congress has repeatedly amended the Act to reduce its administrative and litigation-related costs. The Act also does not support petitioners’ conclusion, in effect, that every IEP should be assumed to be invalid until the school district demonstrates that it is not. Petitioners’ most plausible argument—that ordinary fairness requires that a litigant not have the burden of establishing facts peculiarly within the knowledge of his adversary, United States v. New York, N. H. & H. R. Co., 355 U. S. 253, 256, n. 5—fails because IDEA gives parents a number of procedural protections that ensure that they are not left without a realistic chance to access evidence or without an expert to match the government.  377 F. 3d 449, affirmed.

Disagreeing with the majority, Justice Ginsburg and Justice Breyer wrote dissenting opinions.  Justice Ginsburg felt that requesting parents to fulfill the burden of proof standard would be unfair.  In her dissenting opinion she stated, “policy considerations, convenience, and fairness” call for assigning the burden of proof to the school district in this case.... “the school district is . . . in a far better position to demonstrate that it has fulfilled [its statutory] obligation than the disabled student’s parents are in to show that the school district has failed to do so.”

To read the entire U.S. Supreme Court decision, : Click Here  

Ensuring Excellence for All Students

May 26, 2006

Special Education: Ensuring Excellence for All Students

Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Time: 8:00 PM - 9:00 PM ET

This November marks 30 years since Congress enacted the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142). Today, thanks to this law, which became the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, the majority of children with disabilities are being educated in their neighborhood schools and in regular classrooms alongside their non-disabled peers; high school graduation rates and employment rates among youth with disabilities have increased dramatically; and post-secondary enrollments among individuals with disabilities continue to rise.

The November broadcast of Special Education: Ensuring Excellence for All Students, will showcase successful inclusion programs in schools, profile research-based, early identification and intervention initiatives to identify academic and behavioral problems in young children, and will include a panel of educators, policymakers, community leaders and parents exploring key issues such as:

  • How is NCLB helping ensure the academic progress of children with disabilities? What are the key provisions of the reauthorized IDEA legislation and does it impact those involved with the special education process? What do parents need to know about early intervention for children suspected of having a disability and what challenges do these students and their families face? How have schools made it easier for parents to navigate the system as they create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for their student with a disability? How can students with disabilities be successfully integrated into general education classrooms? What is Positive Behavior Supports and what difference is it making in schools?

For more information on where you can view Special Education: Ensuring Excellence for All Students, visit:

Special Education Elementary Longitudinal Study (SEELS)

May 26, 2006

Special Education Elementary Longitudinal Study (SEELS)  Data Available

The Special Education Elementary Longitudinal Study (SEELS) is a study of school-age students funded by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in the U.S. Department of Education and is part of the national assessment of the 1997 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 97). From Year 2000 to 2006, SEELS is documenting the school experiences of a national sample of students as they move from elementary to middle school and from middle to high school. One important feature of SEELS is that it does not look at students' educational, social, vocational, and personal development at a single point in time. Rather, it is designed to assess change in these areas over time.

SEELS is being conducted to help policymakers and other interested people understand what is happening with students who are receiving or have received special education services. This will help us know how students who receive special education services are doing, what services schools are providing to students and families, and to what extent special education is helping students and families. Because this study uses a nationally representative student sample, SEELS will provide an important national picture of special education.

Like all the studies associated with OSEP's national assessment of IDEA, SEELS is intended to be a national resource for teachers, parents, advocates, policymakers, and researchers.  The data includes parent interviews, direct assessments, school background, teacher surveys and school program surveys. SEELS data cover a wide range of topics, including student and household characteristics, students' functional skills, parental involvement/expectations, school experiences, academic achievement, classroom instruction, social skills, self concept, assessment, accommodations and much more.

To learn more about the Special Education Elementary Longitudinal Study (SEELS), visit

Hurricane Victims with Disabilities

May 26, 2006

Hurricane Victims with Disabilities Receive Assistance Through Department of Education

Gulf States to Get $25.9 Million in Vocational Rehabilitation Services

President Bush recently signed into law the Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita Act of 2005, granting the U.S. Education Department authority to permit hurricane-affected Gulf Coast states access to $25.9 million in federal funds for vocational rehabilitation (VR) services without the states having to provide matching funds.

These VR services may include education, training, assistive technology or various supports necessary for employment of individuals with disabilities affected by Hurricanes Katrina or Rita that contribute to the economic growth and development of communities.

"Children and adults with disabilities face challenges with the loss of their homes and supports for daily living," Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said. "Through the department's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, this funding will provide additional assistance to those with disabilities affected by the hurricanes."

Federal funds for VR services will be made available to affected states in the following amounts:

  • Louisiana, $16.4 million
  • Mississippi, $6.1 million
  • Alabama, $1.7 million
  • Texas, $1.7 million.

Beyond the support to people with disabilities provided by this new law, a fact sheet lists additional efforts by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services to help hurricane victims.  This fact sheet can be found at:

FDA Issues Public Health Advisory on Strattera (Atomoxetine) for Attention Deficit Disorder

May 26, 2006

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today is issuing a Public Health Advisory to alert physicians of reports of suicidal thinking in children and adolescents associated with Strattera, a drug approved to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). FDA has also directed Eli Lilly and Company, manufacturer of Strattera, to develop a Medication Guide for patients and caregivers.

FDA is advising health care providers and caregivers that children and adolescents being treated with Strattera should be closely monitored for clinical worsening, as well as agitation, irritability, suicidal thinking or behaviors, and unusual changes in behavior, especially during the initial few months of therapy or when the dose is changed (either increased or decreased). Patients and caregivers who have concerns or questions about these symptoms should contact their healthcare provider.

"FDA's action today is another example of the agency acting swiftly to alert the public to significant drug safety information needed to use a drug in a safe manner," said Dr. Steven Galson, Director for the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, FDA.

Today's actions follow a review and analysis of 12 clinical trials conducted in children with ADHD and one trial in children with enuresis (bedwetting) that identified an increased risk of suicidal thinking for Strattera. There was one suicide attempt by a patient who received Strattera among the approximately 2,200 patients in the trial. As part of a larger evaluation of psychiatric drugs and suicidality, FDA had requested that the manufacturer conduct a review of its database and clinical trials, which included more than 2200 patients--1350 patients receiving Strattera (atomoxetine) and 851 receiving a placebo. The analysis showed that 0.4% of children treated with Strattera reported suicidal thinking compared to no cases in children treated with the placebo.

Strattera, manufactured by Eli Lilly, has been on the market since 2002 and has been used in more than two million patients.

Health care professionals are encouraged to report any unexpected adverse events associated with Strattera directly to Eli Lilly, Indianapolis, Ind. at 1-800-LillyRx or to the FDA MedWatch program at 1-800-FDA-1088; by FAX at 1-800-FDA-0178; by mail to MedWatch, Food and Drug Administration, HFD-410, 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD, 20857-9787; or online at

Castle Bill

May 26, 2006

House Approves Castle Bill to Improve Head Start Early Childhood Program

WASHINGTON, D.C. September 22, 2005 – The U.S. House of Representatives today approved a bill to introduce greater competition into the federal Head Start early childhood program and use it to strengthen school readiness, increase the role of states and local communities in Head Start, and protect children and taxpayers against the abuse and mismanagement of federal Head Start funds.  The bill, the School Readiness Act (H.R. 2123), also restores hiring protections that had been stripped from faith-based organizations choosing to participate in the early childhood program.

“Today the House voted to strengthen and improve the Head Start program on behalf of the nearly one million children enrolled in Head Start each year,” said Education & the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-OH).  “The bill will increase competition for Head Start grants, increase the role of states and local communities, and help ensure Head Start funds are used for their intended purpose: preparing disadvantaged children for kindergarten.”

"We all can agree on the need for Head Start and its successes.  We must also recognize that Head Start can produce even greater results for children,” said Education Reform Subcommittee Chairman Mike Castle (R-DE), author of the School Readiness Act.  “Students who attend Head Start programs do start school more prepared than those with similar backgrounds that do not attend Head Start.  However, Head Start students continue to enter kindergarten well below national norms in school readiness.  By moving to close this school readiness gap, this bill will improve results for almost a million Head Start students across the nation."

The School Readiness Act will strengthen the academic components of Head Start and remove barriers that hinder coordination between Head Start and successful state-run early childhood initiatives – major priorities for President George W. Bush.  The bill will also emphasize competition, as recommended this year by the independent Government Accountability Office (GAO), to improve program quality and combat financial mismanagement.

Some highlights of the School Readiness Act include:

More competition.  Local Head Start operators identified as having one deficiency or more during the five-year lives of their federal grants will be required to compete against other potential grantees when their grants come up for renewal.  Under current laws and regulations, such recompetition is too limited, the independent GAO has found.  The U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services, who oversees the Head Start program, will retain the right to terminate a Head Start grant at any time during the five-year grant cycle.  Grantees that meet all requirements will be designated as “priority” grantees.

Improved disclosure and transparency of Head Start.  The bill will require all Head Start grantees to make available to the public an annual report detailing how money was spent, the sources from which funds were received, and how the agency has performed in terms of meeting the requirements of the law.  An independent financial audit will also be required annually.

Greater role for states.  In order to qualify to receive a federal Head Start grant, organizations will be required to have objectives in place for improving school readiness that are aligned with state-developed K-12 academic content standards.  In order to be considered “priority” grantees, organizations entrusted with federal Head Start funds will be required to utilize curricula that are aligned with state-developed K-12 academic content standards and based in proven scientific research.  Grantees that fail to meet this standard will be required to compete with other potential grantees and will face the possibility of losing their federal grants.

Greater role for local school districts.  In order to be considered “priority” grantees, organizations entrusted with federal Head Start funds will be required to demonstrate active partnerships with local educational agencies (local school districts) serving the same communities to facilitate smooth transitions to kindergarten for their students.  Grantees that fail to meet this standard will be required to compete with other potential grantees and will face the possibility of losing their federal grants.     

Better safeguards against financial abuse.  Head Start operators will be required to meet a range of financial disclosure requirements as a condition of receiving and keeping their federal Head Start grants.  Grantees will have to be overseen by a local governance board that provides direction and actively oversees all program activities, and will be required to document that they have strong fiscal controls in place, including the employment of a well-qualified chief financial officer with a history of successful management of a public or private organization.  Grantees will also have to maintain administrative costs that do not exceed 15 percent of total program costs.   

Improved teacher quality.  In order to be considered “priority” grantees, organizations entrusted with federal Head Start funds will be required to have a teaching staff of at least 50 percent with AA degrees.  Grantees that fail to meet this standard will be required to compete with other potential grantees and will face the possibility of losing their federal grants.   The percentage of Head Start staff nationwide required to have BA degrees will be increased to 50 percent.

No new testing.  Like its 2003 counterpart, the School Readiness Act contains no new testing provisions.  The legislation will strengthen the academic components of Head Start without adding additional tests or assessments.

Improved school readiness.   The bill will emphasize “what works” in preparing disadvantaged children for school.  It will strengthen Head Start’s academic standards by emphasizing cognitive development and the results of scientifically-based research in topics critical to children’s school readiness (including language, pre-reading, pre-mathematics, and English language acquisition).  The changes would be similar to those adopted with strong bipartisan support for President Bush’s Reading First and Early Reading First initiatives, established in the No Child Left Behind Act for K-12 education.

During consideration of the School Readiness Act, the House adopted an amendment offered by Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) to protect the civil liberties of faith-based providers by clarifying that these institutions are not required to relinquish their Civil Rights Act hiring protections when they participate in the federal Head Start program.  The historic civil rights law explicitly protects the rights of religious organizations to take religion into account in their hiring practices, and former Democratic President Bill Clinton signed four laws explicitly allowing faith-based groups to staff on a religious basis when they receive federal funds.

“Now, more than ever before, we are seeing first hand the good work these groups are doing in my region of the country.  In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, faith-based organizations were among the first to reach out a hand in service to those impacted by the disaster,” said Boustany.  “It is critical that faith-based organizations that are willing to serve their communities by participating in federal programs are not forced to give up who they are to participate.”

“Our nation’s Head Start students deserve to be served by the very best organizations willing to lend a helping hand,” said Boehner.  “By restoring hiring protections for faith-based providers, the School Readiness Act ensures quality programs aren’t forced to choose between relinquishing their identities or being shut out of the program all together.”

CONTACT: Alexa Marrero or Kevin Smith
Telephone: (202) 225-4527

teacher to teacher training program

May 26, 2006

Secretary Spellings Announces Additional Support for Teachers

New training corps, technology partnership support teacher success

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced additional efforts aimed at supporting the teachers of more than one million students over the next year, including a teacher training corps and a technology partnership for teachers in urban areas who focus on math and science. The additional efforts are part of the Department's successful Teacher-to-Teacher initiative, a comprehensive program that offers professional development, research-based classroom strategies, and other support to teachers.

The new Teacher-to-Teacher Training Corps will include teachers and practitioners who will provide on-site technical assistance to individual school districts. For example, the corps could offer an in-service program for a school district's high school math teachers. Members of the Teacher-to-Teacher Training Corps will participate in the Department's summer workshops. All 50 states and the District of Columbia accept the Department's Teacher-to-Teacher summer workshops and online professional development courses for credit. Expanded to 32 courses, the free digital workshops are available to teachers around the world.

Secretary Spellings also announced a partnership between the Department and TechNet, a group of technology companies, to create workshops for teachers in urban areas that focus on math, science, and technology.

Other recently announced support for teachers includes Teachers Ask the Secretary—a new, easy-to-use Web page that gives teachers the opportunity to directly ask the secretary questions and learn information about a wide range of subjects, including teacher quality, professional development, state academic standards and more.

The Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative includes workshops for teachers, teacher and principal roundtables, regular e-mail updates and free online professional development. More than 4,500 teachers have participated in workshops and roundtable discussions.

Also as part of the initiative, teachers across all grade levels and disciplines are being honored as the American Stars of Teaching at events nationwide this fall. One teacher is being recognized from every state and the District of Columbia. A committee of former teachers at the U.S. Department of Education selected the American Stars from among 2,000 nominations based on their success in improving academic performance for all their students.

For more information, contact:  Chad Colby & Sarah Sauber (202) 401-1576

IDEA and Music Therapy

May 26, 2006

IDEA Regulations and Music Therapy as a Related Service

August 25, 2005, After several years of advocacy, the US Dept. of Education is considering changing the wording of the IDEA laws to include music therapy as a related service. Music therapists, special education and general education teachers, parents, and colleagues have an opportunity to influence this legislation by providing comments on the proposed IDEA regulations.   Once these regulations are completed, they will be utilized by schools to assist them in implementing the special education law.  U.S. Department of Education staff has indicated a need to hear comments from parents, as well as clinicians.

All comments on the proposed regulations are to be filed with the Department's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS).   Comments and recommendations can be submitted most efficiently VIA EMAIL TO: IDEACOMMENTS@ED.GOV

You must include in the SUBJECT line: COMMENTS ON IDEA-PART B.

Although not recommended due to the extensive security screening process, comments can also be mailed to the following address:

Dr. Troy R. Justesen
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, S.W.
Potomac Center Plaza, Room 5126
Washington, DC, 20202-2641

On the website for the American Music Therapy Association, it includes sample letters that make it very easy for anyone to email a personalized request.  The deadline is Sept. 6, 2005.  For more information, visit:

Census, Family and Disabilities

May 26, 2006

U.S. Census Bureau Releases Data Report on Families and Disabilities

July 29, 2005--Newly released Census 2000 data showed that approximately 20.9 million American families had at least one member with a disability and that they differed in important ways from other families. Disability can be measured in a variety of ways, as described in the first section of the census report. The remainder of the report presents estimates of disability prevalence in American families using the measures available from Census 2000, discusses the general economic wellbeing of families with members with a disability, and examines differences across demographic groups and geographical regions. It is based on data from the Census 2000 long form, which includes all the questions on the short form plus additional detailed questions relating to the social, economic, and housing characteristics of each individual and household.2 Estimates in this report are limited to families and people in families. To view the report in its entirety, visit:

Students With Disabilities Making Great Strides, New Study Finds

May 26, 2006

Students With Disabilities Making Great Strides,

New Study Finds

Data reflect successful experiences and achievements of special education students moving into early adulthood

FOR RELEASE: July 28, 2005

Students with disabilities have made significant progress in their transition to adulthood during the past 25 years with lower dropout rates, an increase in postsecondary enrollment and a higher rate of gainful employment after leaving high school, according to a new report released today by the U.S. Department of Education. The report is available at

The National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) documents the experiences of a national sample of students over several years as they moved from secondary school into adult roles. The NLTS2 report shows that the incidence of students with disabilities completing high school rather than dropping out increased by 17 percentage points between 1987 and 2003.

During the same period, their postsecondary education participation more than doubled to 32 percent. In 2003, 70 percent of students with disabilities who had been out of school for up to two years had paying jobs, compared to only 55 percent in 1987.

"These accomplishments show the benefits of accountability and high academic standards among all students, including those with disabilities," said U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. "As we focus increasingly on high school students, these findings square nicely with the goals of No Child Left Behind, such as closing the achievement gap and insisting that all students be given the quality education they so deserve."

NLTS2 began in 2001, and is a follow-up to the first National Longitudinal Transition Study conducted from 1985 through 1993, in which the experiences of the first "cohort" of students were analyzed. NLTS2 reports on a second cohort of young people, 12,000 students nationwide who were ages 13-16 at the start of the study. Information will be collected over 10 years from parents, students and schools, and will provide a national picture of the experiences and achievements of young people as they transition into early adulthood.

  • Core Academics Improved—Cohort2 high school students with disabilities were much more likely than their cohort1 counterparts to take core academic courses, including mathematics, science, social studies and a foreign language.
  • Grades Were Higher—Regarding academic performance, more than half of cohort2 students with disabilities received above-average grades, representing a shift from students receiving mostly Cs to more students receiving mostly As or Bs, as reported by teachers.
  • Age and Grade-Level Match Improved—The proportion of students who were at the typical age for their grade level increased from one-third to more than one-half between 1987 and 2001. As being older than the typical age for a grade level has been shown to be a powerful predictor of disabled students dropping out of school, this indicator signals positive outcomes for youths with disabilities in their efforts to finish high school.
  • More Support—By 2001, half of 15- to 17-year-old students with disabilities were receiving related or support services from or through their schools, compared with less than one-third of students in 1987.

The study was funded by the Department's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services and focuses on a wide range of important topics for students with disabilities, such as high school coursework, extracurricular activities, academic performance, postsecondary education and training, employment, independent living and community participation.

Spelling Report Card

May 26, 2006

Dear NASET members:

After reading the July Special edition of the Special Educator e-Journal on FAQ about  No Child Left Behind (NCLB), as well as the News Alert from U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings (see below) that "No Child Left Behind is Working", we want your feedback on this very controversial and hotly debated federal law.  NASET has taken no stance yet on the impact and effectiveness of NCLB--We want to hear from you-Is NCLB really working?  If yes, why?  If not, why not?  How, if in any way, is it effecting you as an educator?  We hope to put together your feedback for an upcoming Special Educator e-journal, and we're looking for your thoughts.  Read the news alert below and feel free to write us your opinions and comments on NCLB at

We hope you are having a wonderful and relaxing summer

Dr. Roger Pierangelo



Spellings Hails New National Report Card Results
Today's News "Proof That No Child Left Behind Is Working"

July  14, 2005--U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings released the following statement regarding the 2004 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Long-Term Trends in Academic Progress, also known as the Nation's Report Card. This particular NAEP long-term trend assessment has been administered using the same exact test in reading and mathematics for over 30 years:

The results from the newest Report Card are in and the news is outstanding. Three years ago, our country made a commitment that no child would be left behind. Today's Report Card is proof that No Child Left Behind is working-it is helping to raise the achievement of young students of every race and from every type of family background. And the achievement gap that has persisted for decades in the younger years between minorities and whites has shrunk to its smallest size in history.

More than half of the progress in reading for 9-year olds during the Report Card's entire history has been made in the last five years. It is not a coincidence that progress accelerated so dramatically during this time period. The results are a tribute to students, teachers, parents, principals, school administrators, and state and national policymakers.

So I am pleased with today's results, but in no way completely satisfied. We are at the beginning of the journey and certainly have room for improvement, particularly at the high school level. We must support older students with the same can-do attitude that helped their younger brothers and sisters.

Changing the direction of America's schools is like turning the Queen Mary, a large ship whose captain can't change course on a dime. The goal requires a lot of time and effort, but we are beginning to turn our own Queen Mary around. I know we can continue to do it together-teachers, principals, parents-so that all children receive the quality education a nation such as ours is capable of providing.  Full results of the Long-Term Trend NAEP can be found at:

411 on Disability Disclosure

May 26, 2006

The 411 on Disability Disclosure: A Workbook for Youth with Disabilities

The 411 on Disability Disclosure: A Workbook for Youth with Disabilities, published by the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth), is designed for youth and adults working with them to learn about disability disclosure. This workbook is free of charge and helps young people make informed decisions about whether or not to disclose their disability and understand how that decision may impact their education, employment, and social lives. Based on the premise that disclosure is a very personal decision, the Workbook helps young people think about and practice disclosing their disability.

To download the entire 411 on Disability Disclosure Guidebook in PDF* (99 pages/397KB)  visit:

or  to read the guide in MS Word (85 pages) visit

*Please note: This is a large document, download time will be longer for users with slower connections.

Again, this workbook is free.

The workbook does not tell a young people what to do. Rather, it helps them make informed decisions about disclosing their disability, decisions that will affect their educational, employment, and social lives.

MS Word versions of the 411 on Disability Disclosure Workbook are designed specifically for those visitors using screen readers and/or braille translators. Phrases such as "pullout" and "sidebar" will be used throughout the Word documents to give readers with low vision and/or blindness a better understanding of how the text is laid out in the PDF version (with complete graphics). In addition, tables and charts within the documents will be reformatted for clarity.

Units and Activities

Unit 1: Self-Determination…the BIG Picture
Activities: "Just what do you know about yourself and your disability?," "Self-Determined Short-Term Goals"

Unit 2: Disclosure… what is it and why is it so important?
Activity: Describe your disability-related needs, and your abilities and skills

Unit 3: Weighing the Advantages and Disadvantages of Disclosure
Activities: "Discuss Scenarios," "Famous People Matching"

Unit 4: Rights and Responsibilities Under the Law
Activities: "Defining Your Disability," "Recognizing Discrimination," "Small Group Poster Activity," "Identifying Adult Service Providers & Eligibility Criteria"
Appendices: "Basic Facts about the Americans with Disabilities Act," "Summary of Legislation"

Unit 5: Accommodations
Activities: "The Job Accommodation Network (JAN)," "Situations and Solutions at School and at Work"

Unit 6: Postsecondary Disclosure…Why, When, What, to Whom, and How?
Activities: "Course for Disclosure Examples," "Exploring Disability Support Services," "My Practice Script"

Unit 7: Disclosure on the Job…Why, When, What, to Whom, and How?
Activities: "Course for Disclosure Examples," "My Practice Script," "Visit your local One-Stop Career Center,"

Unit 8: Disclosure in Social and Community Setting…Why, When, What, to Whom, and How?
Activities: "Course for Disclosure Examples," "My Practice Script"

Disclosure Glossary


The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth) assists state and local workforce development systems to better serve youth with disabilities. The NCWD/Youth, created in late 2001, is composed of partners with expertise in disability, education, employment, and workforce development issues. Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), the NCWD/Youth is housed at the Institute for Educational Leadership.

Ed Dept Seek Comment

May 26, 2006

Education Department Seeking Comment on Draft Regulations for Implementing Special Education Law

Web-based, unofficial copy displayed for parents, teachers and others in advance of public meetings; Official version expected to be published in Federal Register next week

The U.S. Department of Education today announced proposed regulations to implement the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 and invited public comment. Passed late last year by Congress, the act updates the statute that provides special education services for America's 6.8 million children and youth with disabilities.

"The revised law aligns IDEA with No Child Left Behind," said John Hager, assistant secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS). "Today, NCLB and the IDEA are partners in serving our nation's children with disabilities, their parents and their schools."

Changes in the law require a new set of regulations to guide states in implementing IDEA 2004. The official copy of these proposed regulations will be published in the Federal Register within a few days. So that citizens will have as much time as possible to review the proposed regulations, the Department is posting an unofficial copy on its Web site at

Using that link, the public can also view the dates and locations for a series of public meetings where comments on the proposed regulations may be provided to OSERS. Information on submitting written comments on the proposed regulations can also be found using that link.

"Having feedback on the draft regulations from parents, teachers, students, state officials, and other interested persons is critical for us," said Troy Justesen, acting director of the Office of Special Education Programs. "We want the final regulations to reflect the dialogue we've been having with the public since the President signed the law last December."

Following are some of the highlights of the draft rules.

Reorganization of the Regulations. The proposed regulations are reorganized to follow the general order and structure of the statute. This will be helpful to parents, schools, and the public both in reading the regulations, and in finding the direct link between a given statutory requirement and the regulation related to that requirement.

Highly Qualified Special Education Teachers. The proposed regulations clarify that the highly qualified special education teacher requirements apply only to public school teachers.

Children with Disabilities Enrolled by Their Parents in Private School. The proposed regulations incorporate the statutory change that the school district in which the child's private school is located, as opposed to the school district where the child resides, is responsible for child find and services for these children.

Identification of Children with Specific Learning Disabilities. The proposed regulations lay out parameters for identifying students with specific learning disabilities and encourage the use of high quality instruction and response to that instruction as a part of the evaluation process.

Discipline Procedures. The proposed regulations closely follow the language in the statute.

Resolution of Disputes at the Local Level. The proposed regulations encourage cooperative resolution of disputes between the complainant and the school district when the complaint is about an individual child.

Due Process Procedures. The proposed regulations closely follow the language of the statute.

Parent Consent. The proposed regulations clarify that a public agency is not required to pursue an initial evaluation of a child if the parent does not give consent.

State Responsibility to Supervise Districts. The proposed regulations make clear that the State is responsible for monitoring and enforcing the implementation of the IDEA in its local school districts.

Draft IDEA

May 26, 2006

Draft IDEA Regulations are Available

This just in from from the National Dissemination Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities:
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Secretary Spellings have signed the proposed regulations to implement the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA). This follows a concerted effort by many in OSERS to review the old and new law, receive public comments, and draft the proposed regulations.

So that members of the public will have as much time as possible to review the proposed regulations, the Department has posted an unofficial copy on its Web site at

Using that link, members of the public can also view the dates and locations for a series of public meetings where comments on the proposed regulations will be received by OSERS. Information on submitting written comments on the proposed regulations can also be found using that link.

Mental Illness

May 26, 2006

Mental Illness Exacts Heavy Toll, Beginning in Youth

June 6, 2005:  Researchers supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) have found that half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and that despite effective treatments, there are long delays — sometimes decades — between first onset of symptoms and when people seek and receive treatment. The study also reveals that an untreated mental disorder can lead to a more severe, more difficult to treat illness, and to the development of co-occurring mental illnesses.

The landmark study is described in four papers that document the prevalence and severity of specific mental disorders. The papers provide significant new data on the impairment — such as days lost from work — caused by specific disorders, including mood, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders. These measures will allow researchers to determine the degree of disability and the economic burden caused by mental illness, as well as trends over time.

The papers are reported in the June 6 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry by Ronald Kessler, Ph.D., and colleagues. The study was a collaborative project between Harvard University, the University of Michigan, and the NIMH Intramural Research Program.

This study, called the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R), is a household survey of 9,282 English-speaking respondents, age 18 and older. It is an expanded replication of the 1990 National Comorbidity Survey, which was the first to estimate the prevalence of mental disorders (using modern psychiatric standards) in a nationally representative sample. The expansion includes detailed measures that will significantly improve estimates of the severity and persistence of mental disorders, and the degree to which they impair individuals and families, and burden employers and the U.S. economy.

“These studies confirm a growing understanding about the nature of mental illness across the lifespan,” says Thomas Insel, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Mental Health. “There are many important messages from this study, but perhaps none as important as the recognition that mental disorders are the chronic disorders of young people in the U.S.”

Prevalence and Age-of-Onset of Mental Disorders

Unlike most disabling physical diseases, mental illness begins very early in life. Half of all lifetime cases begin by age 14; three quarters have begun by age 24. Thus, mental disorders are really the chronic diseases of the young. For example, anxiety disorders often begin in late childhood, mood disorders in late adolescence, and substance abuse in the early 20’s. Unlike heart disease or most cancers, young people with mental disorders suffer disability when they are in the prime of life, when they would normally be the most productive.

The risk of mental disorders is substantially lower among people who have matured out of the high-risk age range. Prevalence increases from the youngest group (age 18-29) to the next-oldest age group (age 30-44) and then declines, sometimes substantially, in the oldest group (age 60 +). Females have higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders. Males have higher rates of substance use disorders and impulse disorders.

The survey found that in the U.S., mental disorders are quite common; 26 percent of the general population reported that they had symptoms sufficient for diagnosing a mental disorder during the past 12 months. However, many of these cases are mild or will resolve without formal interventions.

It is likely, however, that the prevalence rates in this paper are underestimated, because the sample was drawn from listings of households and did not include homeless and institutionalized (nursing homes, group homes) populations. In addition, the study did not assess some rare and clinically complex psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia and autism, because a household survey is not the most efficient study design to identify and evaluate those disorders.

Failure and Delay in Initial Treatment Contact

The study documents the long delays between the onset of a mental disorder and the first treatment contact, as well as the accumulated burden and hazards of untreated mental disorders.

These pervasive delays in getting treatment tend to occur for nearly all mental disorders, though they vary according to specific diagnostic categories. The median delay across disorders is nearly a decade; the longest delays are 20-23 years, for social phobia and separation anxiety disorders. This is possibly due to the relatively early age of onset and fears of therapy that involve social interactions.

Shorter delays between onset of disorder and treatment seeking — still a protracted 6-8 years — are seen for mood disorders, and are likely attributable to public awareness campaigns, the marketing of newer therapies directly to consumers, and expanded insurance coverage.

While approximately 80 percent of all people in the U.S. with a mental disorder eventually seek treatment, there are public health implications from such long delays in treatment. Untreated psychiatric disorders can lead to more frequent and more severe episodes, and are more likely to become resistant to treatment. In addition, early-onset mental disorders that are left untreated are associated with school failure, teenage childbearing, unstable employment, early marriage, and marital instability and violence.

“The pattern appears to be that the earlier in life the disorder begins, the slower an individual is to seek therapy, and the more persistent the illness,” said Dr. Kessler, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School. “It’s unfortunate that those who most need treatment are the least likely to get it.”

Treating cases early could prevent enormous disability, before the illness becomes more severe, and before co-occurring mental illnesses develop, which only become more difficult to treat as they accumulate, according to the researchers.

Severity and Comorbidity of Mental Disorders

The second paper reports that even though mental disorders are widespread throughout the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in those with a severe disorder — about 6 percent. A “serious” disorder involves a substantial limitation in daily activities or work disability, or a suicide attempt with serious lethal intent, or psychosis. The serious group reported a mean of 88.3 days — nearly 3 months of the year — when they were unable to carry out their normal daily activities.

Unfortunately, say the researchers, individuals with one mental disorder are at a high risk for also having a second one (comorbidity). Nearly half (45 percent) of those with one mental disorder met criteria for two or more disorders, with severity strongly related to comorbidity. This finding supports the suggestion by a growing portion of researchers that the boundaries between some diagnostic categories may be less discrete than previously believed.

Use of Mental Health Services

The study indicates that the U.S. mental health care system is not keeping up with the needs of consumers and that improvements are needed to speed initiation of treatment as well as enhance the quality and duration of treatment. For instance, over a 12-month period, 60 percent of those with a mental disorder got no treatment at all.

The good news is that the proportion of people who reported 12-month mental health service use is higher now — at 17 percent — than a decade ago in the baseline NCS survey, at 13 percent. The expansion was mainly in the general medical sector, with more primary care physicians providing psychiatric services.

People with mental or substance abuse disorders were more likely to get treatment from a primary care physician/nurse or other general medical doctor (22.8 percent), or from a non-psychiatrist mental health specialist (16 percent), such as a psychologist, social worker, or counselor, than from a psychiatrist (12 percent), though the survey did show that the adequacy of treatment — measured by number of visits — is best when provided by mental health practitioners. About 9.7 percent sought help from a counselor or spiritual advisor outside of a mental health setting; and 6.9 percent used a complementary-alternative source, such as a chiropractor or self-help group. This held true even for those with severe mood disorders. Traditionally underserved groups, such as the elderly, racial/ethnic minorities and those with low income or without insurance, had the greatest unmet need for treatment.

Future and Ongoing Efforts

The NIMH epidemiological research portfolio contains several related projects that are focused on mental disorders among adolescents and ethnic subgroups. These include 1) an arm of the NCS-R that is studying 10,000 youths; 2) the National Study of African American Life, with 6,000 participants; and 3) the National Study of Latino and Asian Americans, with 5,000 participants. Each of these, like the NCS-R, will provide information on diagnosis, medications, disability/impairment, and service use, drawing from nationally based samples.

An international perspective on these findings is also becoming available, as the study is part of a global initiative on the epidemiology of mental disorders in 28 countries, coordinated through the World Health Organization.