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Special education takes center stage

WASHINGTON - House Republicans last week presented their changes to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Revamping the 1975 law is seen by educators as the most significant issue facing Congress this year. Roughly 6.3 million children receive special-education services, which may include smaller classes, specialized instruction and materials, and transportation.

The House bill focuses on better identification of disabilities and earlier help for struggling students, and would eliminate use of an IQ test that measures the gap between intelligence and achievement, a method some call fundamentally flawed.

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Senate education leaders expect to introduce a bipartisan bill in April, but anticipate fights over spending and private-school vouchers.

A central aim of the Senate bill is to narrow the criteria for those who receive special education. Thousands of children are misidentified, education officials say, including students with basic reading difficulties, along with a disproportionate number of minority students.

A growing concern over Islamic schools

KARACHI - In Islamic schools in Pakistan - some of which nurtured the Taliban and other Muslim militants - the war in Iraq arouses deep passions and demands for a holy war. Many Muslims across Asia see the campaign against Iraq as a crusade against Islam.

In Indonesia, most pesantrens, or Islamic schools, have a moderate outlook on Islam and the West, but October's Bali bombings sparked debate about whether they are breeding grounds for militants. Pesantren enrollments in Indonesia remain small, but numbers are growing in tandem with attention to Islamic practices and values. Thousands of the schools are not registered, raising concerns about oversight.

In Malaysia, Islamic leaders call for protests through prayer, not violence. Some madrassahs - another type of Islamic school - profess concerns about the war in Iraq. Few students, however, express a desire to leave their studies for a holy war, or jihad.

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