The Iron Triangle, House of Cards, and the Burden of Proof In United States politics, the “iron triangle” comprises the policy-making relationship among the congressional committees, the bureaucracy, and interest groups, as described in 1981 by Gordon Adams.
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However, this analogy for NH applies to elected state officials serving on committees, bureaucracy, and special interest groups.
Education is perhaps one of the least well-understood areas to where this model applies. While many would agree that symbiotic relationships exist throughout politics and those who work to influence it, truly mapping out the connections with proof can serve to be a tangled spider web of information. Irrefutable evidence can be difficult to pin down and leave suspicious characters just barely below the cusp of culpability.
Iron triangles do exist today in NH, in fact, perhaps more so than ever in Education.
Education law is complex and is often difficult to understand unless you are living it, having children in our school system today. Yesterday’s standards and assumptions of how things work in schools and those making decisions impacting them simply cannot be compared to how things ‘used to be.’
The demographics of our school populations have changed. Districts refuse to abandon common core standards using subpar materials and testing methods because of the federal ‘carrot’ and insisting on one-size-fits-all. These among the iron triangle are some of the most destructive root causes of the pain our kids and teachers are experiencing today and setting the stage for a fragile house of cards about to collapse.
Another analogy, the “House of Cards,” is one that applies to many situations, but in software engineering, it is one that has tangible implications – as it does for education. In this analogy, a string of code represents a single card. Many a party-goer has tried to build a house of cards, usually not getting very far. It’s not too different for a company to go after setting up a new systems architecture imagining they are now doing something radically different, yet still keeping monolithic ideals.
On top of that, there are defects often within the systems – and in software engineering, these are given the highest priority, knowing the serious ramifications of a defect going into production. Now apply this to government-regulated education. Whether getting additional funding leads to building an attractive four-story “card house” of a school, the fundamental problems still remain because they are based on monolithic approaches.
But the “defects” are never fixed, leading to a teetering house of cards that is collapsing, but also causing a hell of a lot of human collateral damage in the process.
So who is the collateral damage in our collapsing educational system and what can be done? Certainly, funding has been requested, received, and continually asked for. But that won’t address the defects by a long shot.
In an effort to address a David and Goliath-like situation that affects special needs kids and families, who represent 36,000 Individual Education Plans (IEP’s), a self-made volunteer group of moms started to ask “why” about a number of things, including why it is ok for kids with an IEP to have a 14% proficiency in math and 17% proficiency in reading, and no one is doing anything about it.
Further, we started to question those lobbyists showing up every time first at hearings, getting favor over parents. According to the School Boards Association and Drummond Woodsum, a law firm continually on retainer paid by school districts, things are just hunky-dory in education, especially for special needs kids.
But parents continually are begging for help, and a recent petition shows that even at the cost of retaliation from districts or other entities which is very real, they are exhausted and need relief now from our legislature. Due to how complex the scope of the problems are, a lot of what continues to create a struggle for NH families and kids with special needs is because of lack of understanding as to how federal education laws like I.D.E.A. apply, and how our state is responding to and applying them.
In the course of being trying to get a “Free and Appropriate Public School Education” (FAPE), small amounts of support for valid medical diagnoses like autism or learning disability like dyslexia should yield support in schools such as a 30-minute session two times a week. Yet because of the current ‘Burden of Proof’ law wording, disputes over these small amounts of support are allowed to drag out indefinitely.
Those new to the special education process usually ask “how is this possible?”, self-included at one point, and the ‘reasonable man’ argument simply does not apply in the case of federal education law and how it is applied in this state.
If a dispute over a small amount of services happens, the only resolution process is to pursue mediation through the Department of Education. That, however, in addition to other reasons is unattainable, most advocates needed to pursue mediation require an attorney to participate before even arriving at mediation.
The next step of Due Process through the Department of Education is even more unattainable, with the need for a lawyer a must-have, something most families who are already struggling with a special needs child, simply cannot afford. For many reasons, no one ever makes it this far, and they give up, lose hope for their child, for themselves. In one example, a parent shared “I just want to make sure my child is not homeless someday.” This is a common mantra along with hoping to be able to survive the painful journey to navigate the educational process with a special needs child and live to tell about it.
Shifting a ‘burden of proof’ in special education hearings to require schools to provide the data they already have would create a fairer environment to collaborate and negotiate meeting a child’s needs. It would shift the situation from being one that is based on the adversarial system of law to one that encourages “fixing” the problem earlier in the process.
So where does the “iron triangle come into the picture?
The iron triangle represents in this situation associations, such as the School Board Association, that appears at every bill that might slightly help parents and even teachers in the process. It represents attorneys like Drummond Woodsom, who are paid by districts to fight parents, selling insurance to districts to protect against any actions, getting tipped off on cases, and appearing in force to squash parents from any chance of getting what they need for their child.
All of this is on top of federal education law that says that even with a medical diagnosis such as autism, school officials only have to ‘consider’ it, not accept it. These little-known nuances allow the abuses to continue and Goliath to get bigger and more powerful, creating situations where families lose hope, and even kids are lost forever.
But the symbiotic relationship of the iron triangle leaves out some key players that others assume are helped by these powerful players, such as teachers and aides. If one has ever attended an IEP meeting you’ll know it is usually at 10:1 ratio attending, and the teachers struggle to crack a smile looking stressed and parents knowing they don’t have enough time to do their day job being in meetings half of the week.
You see, teachers and aides cannot speak out, because the iron triangle prohibits it. If they did they would be out on the curb. But the nods, winks, subtle references are enough that parents can recognize they are cracking, many retiring early or suddenly, and many really are trying their hardest, especially during this time of remote learning. The current situation is not fair to a majority of those in education. So who is benefitting or profiting from misery and suffering? Well, it would seem to be those in the iron triangle.
Contrary to testimony by the *only* three people who opposed HB 581 the Burden of Proof which will shift that burden from families to districts, there is only one vertical dispute resolution process as described aforehand. If one does not agree to an IEP, there is NO VETO POWER, parents have NO POWER. An IEP will fall back to what it was previously, no needed services will be provided, Goliath always wins, the child goes without help.
The situation we have is dire. In software engineering, the items mentioned would be identified as sev-1 defects, something that needs action NOW. We cannot wait for another study. Human lives are at stake.
How can you help? CALL and or EMAIL the Senate Education Committee today, and ask them to pass HB 581, the Burden of Proof, passed 20-0 by the House Education Committee, and with full support by the NH House. NH kids and struggling families need the committee to do the right thing.
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