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Public policy is defined as a body of principles underlining the states legal operations. It covers the social, economic and the moral values of a given society. In the general context values vary from one culture to the other making it prone to change over time. Laws on the other hand regulate the behavior of individuals living in the state as well as reinforcing the existing social prospects; thereby encouraging positive change in the state, (Henekom 183).
Their effectiveness depend on the general acceptability of the social norms by the society where the laws are applied thus reflect the general morality of the state. Policies are open for analysis by any individual in the state including non-governmental organizations and other authorities in the private sector. The policy analyst teams constitute cultural institutions, state council and even religious leaders.
Public policy making takes place through several stages. The stages include problem recognition, policy formulation, policy execution and appraisal according to the desired objectives. The first step, involves identification of the existing problem and its history. In addition, it involves identification of the affected personalities and their degree of awareness to the short and long term effects of the proposed policy, (Peter 199). Similarly, the initial stage assesses the impending effects of changing the existing policies to the society. Policy makers therefore gauge the appropriate policies to solve the identified problems.
The second stage involves policy formulation and adoption. This stage involves public policy discussion and debate between the government officials, individual citizens and the interest groups .It aims at setting goals and the steps to achieving them. It also involves discussing alternative solutions to the problems and possible obstacles during the policy making process besides their effects towards establishing change. In the United States, the formulation and adoption of a policy is done by the legislature.
The third stage involves implementation of the new policy changes. It includes determination of the organizations involved and assigning every stakeholder a role to play in the process. It requires proper communication and cooperation between the stakeholders, sufficient funds to execute the policy activities and overall compliance of the stakeholders to the new approach, (Benard & Frans126).
The final phase in policy making process involves of evaluation and maintenance of the new policy and incorporation of the statistical tools to asses the usefulness of the proposed policy. It encompasses determining the effectiveness of a policy change in addressing the societal problems and habitually calls for public policy manipulation. This stage is typically carried out through cooperate efforts of the policy makers and the private evaluators.
Principles of public policy
Public policy formulation is based on the principle of “ignorantia juris non excusat” (ignorance of the law is no excuse, (Benard & Frans (93).This principle undermines the enactment of any law whenever the accused is able to defend herself against violation. The state therefore adopts policies to maintain sovereignty and reflect the importance of territorial borders.
This makes the public policies be valid only within a given territorial boundary agreed according to the process of de jure recognized by the international community. Similarly, public policies are based on the principle of social contracts which defines the relationships between the citizens and the state by requiring the citizens to pay allegiance to the state.
Conflicting policies in the recent past
This paper considers a controversial piece of legislation that has been viewed as the most important milestone in educational policy reforms in the United States. In the year 2002, the congress passed an educational policy to provide for attainment of fair and equal access to Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The policy was dubbed No Child Left Behind (NCLB). It received the backing of all political parties in the congress despite being proposed by former president Bush’s Republican Party.
The act required that learners are examined in varying learning outcome such as acquisition of special skills at certain learning grades as opposed to classical paper-based evaluation. The policy (NCLB) was founded on prior legislation; Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that made it compulsory for schools to perform favorably in state academic tests.
The two pieces of legislations when read discretely, they show contradictions between intent of providing special education and the act of law. Law requires schools to excel in proficiency tests by including the scores of disabled learners and yet the evaluation of learning process by disable children do not necessarily include their scores in standardized tests i.e. a different psychomotor parameters may be assessed.
Also, the NCLB aimed at widening the spectra of disabilities among learners beyond the traditional 13 disabilities spelled out in previous legislation, IDEA, which provided for a narrow range of disabilities thus locked out many deserving disabled children to federal funding despite having special learning needs. The widened spectra of disabilities outlined in NCLB led to an increase in gross enrolment rates of students. It eliminated previous discriminatory federal legislations such as Education for All Handicapped children Act (EHA).
Conflicts arose in that, the new policy (NCLB) aimed at providing improved learners performance in standardized tests by concentrating in core subjects and demanded that learners be placed in least restrictive learning atmosphere. This made schools to adopt mainstreaming strategy.
This has been particularly difficult for teachers since the individual district schools have been compelled by the Act to teach learners using the general curriculum in order to achieve the uphill task of attaining the grade-entry-level standards, (Dunklee & Robert 324). The general curriculum is more demanding and at the same time the Act requires individualized attention to learners in order for them to acquire life skills and employable competencies that can make the self reliant.
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In addition, the IDEA demands that district schools perform favorably within a competitive standardized test and compile an Annual Yearly Progress report (AYP). Computation of AYP requires that all the learners’ scores are used, unless in special cases of severe cognitive impairments when 3% of such learners’ scores may be omitted, (Ysseldyke & Richard 153).
Since provision for individualized attention requires use of tiresome strategies such as evaluation of special skills acquired by learners, teachers often use integrated curriculum delivery approaches and alternative simplified tests and instructional medium alongside the general curriculum. However, computation of AYP, which the school must excel in, must encompass scores from learners with specialized needs.
This means that schools with higher population of disabled learners; who are examined through the alternative method called Independent Educational Plan (IEP), perform relatively poorly in AYP compared to those schools with fewer special need learners, (Theodoulou & Mathew 108). Some district schools fail to meet the stringent AYP requirements as a result of failure by learners with disabilities to achieve the desired educational objectives. This may be real or used as a scapegoat, making the process prone to abuse and causes pressure.
Some schools deliberately ignore the provisional 3% of Independent Educational Plan (IEP) scores from some special learners when computing AYP. Other schools inflate the results to score favorably in AYP and in some cases oversimplify the alternative special evaluation tests for disabled learners, (Russo & George 591).
Consequently, it has been very difficult for schools to effectively determine which categories of learners qualify for such simplified tests. This manipulative practice gives incorrect statistical data in educational evaluation process to the federal government. This is due to lack of uniformity in test results; thus, dents the integrity, reproducibility and hence reliability of results obtained as basis of educational progress.
NCLB Act provides for funding of learners enrolled in public schools. However, it also give room for parents dissatisfied with provision for FAPE in a public institutions to transfer their children to private institutions, through unilateral decisions by parents alone or in collaboration with Local Education Authorities (LEA) which must bear any costs incurred in the transfer process including provision of other support services.
However, there are cases when Local Education Authorities (LEA) fails to finance students in private institutions eliciting public outcry from the stakeholders. The Act does not guarantee funding of learners enrolled in private institutions making public schools turn go-for-the-child drive to gather more children as a sole discretion by law.
Moreover, the implementation of the act has been a great challenge to educators. The Act requires that discipline must be varied when administered to learners. Thus, pursuant to its requirements, discipline must vary depending on the nature and/or acuity of disability. On the other hand, administration of punishments is subjective to the teacher’s ability to formulate sensitive accommodations since not all the conventional forms of punishments may be applicable, (Benard & Frans 173).
This has made it difficult for Local Educational Authorities to transfer learners who have undergone ten subsequent suspensions to new facilities as provided for by the Act which stipulates that despite having been suspended or expelled, such learners are still entitled to FAPE.
Such learners must be put in interim services while awaiting transfer if their actions are deemed to endanger the lives of other learners in their present institution. Such decision must be reached within ten days, a time faulted to be too short since a procedural comprehensive functional evaluation of past behavior has to be made, reviewed and strategy set to tackle the deviant behavior. Such remedies can only succeed when a consensus is struck between the authorities and the guardians of the leaner in question.
IDEA from which NCLB is founded provides parents to contest the computation of Independent Educational Plan (IEP) results for their children. The major contention has been the constitution of FAPE. In a court case in the Supreme Court, the conflict was resolved in Rowley. In Rowley, the Court ruled that key to achieving the objectives set by Education for All Handicapped children Act (EHA), the individual schools must provide, “educational instructions specifically designed to meet the unique needs of the handicapped child, support such services that are necessary to permit the child to ‘benefit’ from the instruction”, ( Elliot & Michael 263).
Supreme Court in this case terminated the holdings of the Act by determining the target of the congress while passing the law was that congress intended to ensure that learners with special needs had fair access to education and not just merely demanding the schools to be what the Supreme Court termed as “superficial basis in provision of essential level in educational opportunity”, (James & Joseph 258). This case formed the basis for expectations of the members of the public on the roles of individual school in providing FAPE to individual with disabilities.
Responses to the legislation No child Left Behind Act
Since the American educational policy affects many students, several groups from the society came out to either criticize or suggest improvements to the Act. These groups included political ideologists, interest groups, courts, educationists and the executive, (Murin & John 283). To start with, political parties have been shaped by competing forces on the politics of education aiming at creating a compromise of the act to accommodate the interests of the minority groups.
In 2001, the reauthorization and renaming of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to No Child Left behind Act encouraged the then president George Bush to seek support from moderate party loyalists to avoid resistance from liberal and conservatives from blocking the bill at its initial stages. The late Senator Ted Kennedy (Democratic Party) was appointed the new leader of education committee to garner support.
The president conferred with the Republican Party members over the acceptance of the new reforms .On the other hand, Senator Kennedy negotiated with Democrats on behalf of the president. On reaching comprehensive agreements, proper budget on education was passed to ensure accomplishment of the passed legislation.
Secondly, the United States courts played major responsibilities on ensuring the success of the policy. In New York, a federal court revived a law suit against the state. In response, the judge confirmed the district schools complaint and recommended that the federal government disburse money for accomplishment of several programs in public schools such as paying for examination and other school activities, (Kengor 325).
Later, in 2005, the school districts in New York, Texas, Michigan and Vermont came together with the National Education Association and filed a lawsuit. In their suit, they stated that no school or state be forced to incur expenses before disbursement of federal funding.
On the other hand, special interest groups such as the church and business fraternity in New York impacted positively on the new legislation. They emphasized on deregulation of education in New York and called for abolishment of United States Department of Education and advocated for a more inclusive organization that cater for all schools in the state. However, religious conservatives remained rooted on their belief of giving parents the mandate to carry out education policies without government interference.
The act authorized the state to provide the students with standardized tests as well as reflecting the improvements in students’ performance. The executive therefore mandated the “National Assessment of Educational Progress”, to administer and compare tests administered by different states, (Kengor 346).
Policy formulation and implementation is a long term process involving different stakeholders thus must be consultative to seek consensus and opinions of all the policy implementers. This stage is vital in ensuring that the implementation process is successful due to harmonious participation of all the stakeholders.
It makes the implementers feel a sense of ownership of the whole process, (Robert & Frans 237). NCLB should be lauded for holding individual schools responsible for the performances of their learners in standardized tests. However, this could be undermined by the fact that it may surpass the need for the schools to provide for individual differences in learning.
Involving all stakeholders such as educators, parents and the legislators would help in developing a comprehensive framework that is useful in determining the feasibility of standardized testing as an appropriaiate criterion for measuring leaning outcomes for learners with disabilities.
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