“The Elevator Theory of Special Education” — as it appeared in Education Week 27 years ago.

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, JD, MA
7 min readFeb 13, 2022

Almost to the day! 27 years ago, my Education Week Commentary appeared. It was very widely read. Clearly, it hit a mark! I felt optimistic. It was quite a thrill.

Even thereafter, for years, when I traveled around the country as a speaker, consultant, and special education law expert, I saw that article on many, many bulletin boards in schools! Clearly the Commentary resonated with educators and administrators.

Then what happened? Not much.

The issues remain to this day. Early optimism and interestdid not lead to systemic change.

Indeed, the elevator is probably busier now than ever, as more parents seek gatekeepers, so their children will be found eligible for special education services in the COVID era. As I see it now, this is sad. It’s also not research-based, as we have no evidence that more labels for students improves their outcomes. It just keeps those elevators moving up and down.

So, for our new generation of educators, parents, and influencers, I thought you might like to see this important article. Here it is!


The Elevator Theory of Special Education —

With diagnosticians as the Gatekeepers, are we overlabeling our children?

By Miriam Kurtzig Freedman — February 15, 1995

Miriam K. Freedman is an attorney with the Boston law firm of Stoneman, Chandler, & Miller, concentrating on special-education matters. Formerly, she was a Massachusetts hearing officer and teacher.

If you’ve ever wondered about the educational jargon and medical diagnoses surrounding children with learning difficulties in our schools, be assured that they often have a straightforward explanation: the elevator theory. The floor at which the child gets off while at the hospital or clinic evaluation center determines the diagnosis received. Simple. Easy to understand. It works.

A child and parent seeking to understand the learning difficulties in order to get special help need only decide which elevator button to push. The choices are many: psychology, speech/language pathology, learning disorders, neurology/attention-deficit disorders…

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, JD, MA

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, JD, MA, is a reformer, thought leader, lawyer, and author. Check out her book, Special Education 2.0 and her medicine bottle art!