Stories and Grievances: Special Education
NYC Special Education: Sorry, We at the NYC Board of Education Are Not Giving This Year
Low graduation rates for children with special needs show that Joel Klein is not telling the whole story. Mr. Klein, be accountable for the miserable data.
Study on Special Education Finds Low Graduation Rate
By SUSAN SAULNY, NYTIMES, June 3, 2005
Most students who are enrolled in special education classes in New York City are failing to earn regular high school diplomas, according to a study released yesterday by a nonprofit group that monitors the school system.
About 111,000 students who received special education services left the system from 1996 to 2004, and of those students, 13,672 - or 12.3 percent - graduated with Regents or local diplomas, according to Advocates for Children, the nonprofit group that issued the report, "Leaving Empty-Handed." In addition, 12 percent received an alternative certificate, an Individualized Education Program diploma.
"The graduation rates are grim and mean that most of the city's students receiving special education services are leaving school with no options for college, employment or independence," said Jill Chaifetz, the executive director of the group.
Ms. Chaifetz and Elisa Hyman, the group's deputy director, said the findings underscored what they saw every day: longstanding failures to serve vulnerable children.
"This is a huge number of kids," Ms. Chaifetz said. "They can have a future. But what we are providing is the opportunity to fail."
The report also found that the city's special education graduation rate "lags dismally" behind that of other parts of the state and across the nation. In the 2002-3 school year, for instance, the percentage of special education students receiving regular diplomas was 12.8 percent in New York City, 26 percent in New York State and 31 percent nationally.
The Department of Education vigorously disagreed with the group's conclusions, contending that its efforts to overhaul the special education system were beginning to produce measurable results.
For example, it cited test scores released on Wednesday for the third, fifth, sixth and seventh grades showing that the number of special education students scoring at Level 1, or "not proficient," dropped in mathematics from 61.4 percent last year to 53.1 this year. In English, this year 43.2 percent of students were not proficient, compared with 58.1 percent last year.
"No one has more aggressively tackled the long-neglected area of special education services for our children," a spokeswoman for Chancellor Joel I. Klein, Michele McManus Higgins, said in a statement. "And yesterday's news about the remarkable gains in achievement by our special education students, in both math and English, strongly suggests that we are on our way to improved graduation rates for these students."
In fact, the study notes, the percentage of special education students graduating with Regents or local diplomas has increased over the last four years, to 15.96 percent from a low of 9.14 percent in 2000.
In addition, Ms. Higgins said, this year the department selected dozens of troubled schools to receive grants for improving their special education services. She also said that 58 high schools will begin accepting groups of special education students for the first time in September, and that they have received grants to develop services for these students and have arranged summertime professional development for staff members.
Special education students' disabilities vary from depression, anxiety and mild impediments in speech and hearing to more severe learning disabilities and retardation.
Last June, the state set a goal of having 80 percent of special education students graduating with a local, Regents or high school equivalency diploma by 2010.
Slightly more than 12 percent of special education students who left school in the last eight years received an alternative certificate, an Individualized Education Program diploma. But that diploma is not equal to a Regents or a local diploma, and is not accepted in many cases by colleges, the armed forces or vocational training programs.
The report also found significant disproportions in graduation rates by race and sex. White and Asian special education students were, on average, twice as likely to graduate as black and Hispanic students. And girls were more likely than boys to finish school.
"In a broader context, 12 percent is certainly shockingly low," said Christopher Swanson, a senior researcher for the Urban Institute, an economic and social policy research organization based in Washington. Mr. Swanson has researched special education graduation rates nationally.
"It's important not to jump to conclusions that just because a student has an I.E.P. that they are unable to take a normal course of study with modifications or to graduate," said Mr. Swanson, referring to the specialized curriculum for such students. "Just because these are special education students, we shouldn't write them off as not being able to graduate."
New York City Department of Education: Special Neglect for Special Education
Friday, May 27, 2005
If we judge a society by how it treats its most vulnerable members, we should judge a school system by how it serves its most needy students. Students with disabilities should be seen as precious assets and their needs addressed with full hearts and resources. They should not be neglected and treated with contempt as though they were an embarrassment and a drain on the system. The Department of Education has done just that.The Department of Education under Chancellor Klein has acted willfully to cripple Special Education. Consider the weight of the total evidence.
By law, an "Individual Educational Plan" must be prepared and followed for every "special education" student. This is basically an identification of the child's educational needs, determined by specialists in collaboration with other professionals, and a specific plan to meet those needs.
Elected officials continue to receive an avalanche of complaints from parents and teachers about the Department of Education's refusal to meet its obligations. They also protest the DOE's bad faith in being unavailable to parents and, when cornered at public meetings, denying there is a crisis.
Teachers on a mass scale have been stopped from making referrals for special education. Warnings to keep evaluation statistics down have sometimes been subtle, other times loud and clear. Under Chancellor Klein's DOE, even orders not stated or obtainable in documents are carried out just the same all across the city. Even under these conditions, a recent survey by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaums's office found that more 80% of school psychologists, and 70% of principals reported a backlog of students awaiting re-evaluation.
Special Education students are not receiving instructional and paraprofessional services as mandated on their IEPs. These include but are not limited to frequency, location, and group size. A student's IEP is often changed without knowledge or input from mandated members of the IEP team. Teachers have been directed to write IEP goals for students they have never met and know little or nothing about.
Where a legitimate IEP exists, teachers often have no copy of it. Paraprofessionals, who work closely with the children, do not even have access to this blueprint for learning. In cases when a special education student has violated the discipline code of the school, even if to the point of endangering other boys and girls, principals often do nothing.
This is not because they are opposed to interrupting the smooth flow of the child's education, because principals commonly cancel services to special education kids so that their teachers can cover other classes or help with the administration of school-wide assessments and other clerical chores.
Special Education is not cost-effective. Neither are many of the life-extending measures that an enlightened society takes out of respect for human dignity. Would a hospital dissolve the position of critical care nurse because an efficiency expert or statistician recommended it? Yet all "education evaluators" were abolished under Chancellor Klein's Department of Education. These were the case managers and the most experienced monitors of student progress. Also harmful is that social workers are no longer required at initial evaluations.
Is there any excuse for all this? Is anyone doing anything about it?
Report backs special needs integration
Wednesday June 1, 2005
Placing children with special needs in mainstream primary school classes has no significant impact on other pupils' attainment, according to a government-funded research review published today.
The review, conducted by the school of education at the University of Manchester, is likely to be welcomed by the government, which is keen to follow a more inclusive agenda.
However, researchers were quick to point out that all but a few of the studies they reviewed focused on children with physical, sensory or communication difficulties, and not those with emotional and behavioural difficulties, an area of most concern to teachers. Most studies related to primary school children, and none were conducted in the UK.
The researchers also concluded that more investigation was needed into the impact in secondary schools, as very few such studies were available.
The review considered 26 studies dating back over the past 20 years. Taking into account academic and social impacts of special needs integration, the studies produced 40 separate findings. Of these, nine indicated that the presence of special needs pupils had a positive academic or social impact on other children, 21 showed it made no difference and six showed a negative impact. Four revealed a mixed effect.
Some of the findings suggested that mainstream primary school pupils achieved better results with special needs pupils in class, provided the latter children received good support.
The researchers concluded that "taken as a whole, the findings indicate that placing children with SEN [special educational needs] in mainstream schools is unlikely to have a negative impact on academic and social outcomes for pupils without SEN".
However, they argued that successful inclusion did not occur in a "vacuum".
"Parents, teachers and pupils need to be fully committed to the idea, programmes of work have to be carefully planned and reviewed regularly and support staff need to work flexibly as a team and receive appropriate support and training," they said.
The researchers also said they would like to see the views of mainstream pupils included in future studies.
Very little research exists that explores the impact of special needs pupils in mainstream schools on those without special needs. Most of the work has tended to focus on the effects on special needs pupils themselves.
"This is an important aspect of the inclusion debate at a time when questions are being raised about the viability of inclusion and when some teachers are expressing concerns about the increased inclusion of particular groups of pupils, especially those with emotional and behavioural problems," the report said.
Inclusion has become a big political issue over the past few years, with the government encouraging local education authorities to send more pupils with special needs into mainstream schools. Teachers remain cautious, saying schools need adequate support if the pupils are to benefit from a mainstream education.
School inclusion policies not working, says report
Polly Curtis, education correspondent
Tuesday October 12, 2004
The government's drive to teach more disabled pupils in mainstream schools is failing, despite the fact that teachers think more inclusive education is a good idea, the schools watchdog said today.
In the first major report since the government strengthened the rights of pupils with special educational needs (SEN) to go to mainstream instead of special schools, Ofsted found that the proportion of SEN pupils in mainstream schools had remained static.
The Ofsted inspectors reported that despite having a better attitude to inclusive education, most schools had not improved their provision.
The chief inspector of Ofsted, David Bell, said: "The report paints a varied picture of success so far. Most schools have been convinced of the benefits of inclusion. However, against common perceptions, the proportion of pupils with statements of SEN in mainstream schools has not yet been affected by the inclusion framework."
The report, Special educational needs and disability: towards inclusive schools, found that although more schools wanted to be seen as inclusive and regarded it as a positive thing, their provision for SEN pupils was no broader than it was before the government legislation.
SEN pupils are those with any condition that might affect their learning. They might be dyslexic, have attention disorders or physical disabilities, which mean they are wheelchair users.
However, it is pupils who have behavioural and social problems that bring the biggest challenges. Headteachers struggled to reconcile the rights of the individual child with that of the whole school or class, which they feared would suffer if appropriate attention was not given to the child, the report said.
Local authorities were also failing to foster links between mainstream and special schools to create more integration.
Mr Bell added: "Continued efforts are called for to ensure that more mainstream schools have the capacity and staff are confident about admitting and supporting pupils with more complex needs, especially those with social and behavioural difficulties.
"Until more is expected from the lowest-attaining pupils, improvement in provision for pupils with SEN and in the standards they reach will be slow."
As Ofsted published its report, the woman who pioneered the drive towards more inclusive teaching called for a major rethink of SEN policy. Mary Warnock, who authored a report on special education 25 years ago that first challenged the norm of SEN pupils being educated separately, argued that although SEN pupils were taught in mainstream schools, they were often taught apart from other pupils, and without proper provision could become victims of bullying.
Writing in the magazine of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers union, Ms Warnock said: "Such children will not, in any case, be well served if they are taught mainly by classroom assistants, or are removed into units isolated from their contemporaries. And they are likely to encounter bullying."