One of the big debates in literary theory is whether a reader must examine the author in order to examine the text. I go back and forth, but in this case, I cannot separate the article from the author. Clint Bolick is one of the nation's leading conservative lawyers. He founded the libertarian legal organization, The Institute for Justice. He is most famous for (1) leading the opposition to President Clinton's nomination of Lani Guinier as Attorney General, (2) crusading against all forms of affirmative action, and (3) leading the charge for school choice and vouchers. (Fun google fact: Clarence Thomas is the godfather for Bolick's son.)
I put that out there not to dismiss the substance of Bolick's arguments about IDEA, but to put some of them in context. For example, while Bolick cites his experience with his child as a big motivation for his position, I would posit that equally motivating is his disdain for the federal government playing a role in education and his desire to establish school voucher programs. So when he argues for dismantling IDEA or suggests allowing special ed kids to go to private schools, there are agendas at play other than merely doing what is best for students with special needs.
In a separate post, I'll put in my 2 cents about smaller class size, differentiation, and learning deficits, but I want to close by defending the IDEA by pointing out a couple holes in Bolick's argument.
Bolick makes great hay out of the notion that affluent parents are abusing the IEP process to secure presumably unnecessary accommodations for their children. First, I'm not convinced this is even true without more data. Boogeymen like this are often used by ideologues like Bolick but don't stand up to further scrutiny (see, for example, the claim that gay marriage will lead to more divorce among straight married couples).
Second, even if the trend was true, he does not prove that "gaming the system" is the cause. The fact that affluent SAT takers disproportionately receive accommodations could be the result of other factors. For example, perhaps the traditional stigma of "special ed" has been weakening (perhaps due to the success of the IDEA and other disability laws bringing the disabled population's struggle into the sunlight of our society). With less of a stigma, it is possible that more parents (especially stigma-conscious affluent ones) are seeking help for their children. Or perhaps affluent parents are more able/available/effective/powerful at advocating for their children and are therefore more successful than less-affluent parents at securing accommodations. In this view, the problem isn't that affluent kids are getting help; it's that poor kids are not getting the help they need as well.
In close, I think the IDEA, warts and all, is an essential part of our educational system and our commitment to equal treatment of all students. I don't trust the states and local school districts to protect the rights of their special needs students if there were left alone by dumping the IDEA, as Bolick clearly would prefer.