Special education is costing more and more, yet results are disappointing, writes Rick Hess. Nate Levenson, a former superintendent who reduced special-ed spending while improving achievement, has written Something Has Got to Change: Rethinking Special Education.
- a relentless focus on reading, including clear and rigorous grade-level expectations for reading proficiency, frequent measurement, and early identification of struggling readers with immediate and intensive additional instruction, up to 30 extra minutes per day;
- rethinking what special ed students are taught in general education classes to avoid overplacement of special ed students in special classes and keep them in front of the best teachers;
- maximizing class time with content expert teachers.
Special education teachers know how to identify disabilities, but aren’t trained in how to teach math, English or reading, even though that’s their primary duty, Levenson writes.
Also in for some tough medicine is the practice of co-teaching, where a special ed teacher is paired with a general ed teacher in a regular classroom for students with and without disabilities. Levenson writes, “Co-teaching is like dieting. Lots of people want to lose weight and look good in a bathing suit, but actually doing so is hard.”
Miriam Freedman talks about what Massachusetts is doing to speed resolutions of disputes (SPED-X) and cut down on paperwork (Process Lite).
Some states, such as Massachusetts and New York, identify almost twice as many students as disabled as other states, such as Texas and California, notes Fordham’s Shifting Trends in Special Education. The poverty rate doesn’t explain it, writes Mike Petrilli. But it does correlate with per-student spending, adjusted for the cost of living. High-spending states have higher rates of special-education identification.
Thirteen percent of the difference in identification is correlated to spending, estimates Harvard Education Professor Marty West. “It could be that better-resourced systems identify more kids because they have the capacity to serve them separately, but even if that were the case there is a lot of variation that it can’t explain (look at Rhode Island and Texas, for example).”
Petrilli wonders whether tighter school budgets will result in smaller special-ed caseloads.
San Francisco school officials want to save money by mainstreaming all special education students, reports the New York Times. That includes mainstreaming 16 students with severe behavior problems who attend a private, nonprofit school at district expense.
(Sylvia) Hewlett’s son attended six San Francisco schools before his ninth birthday. His mother said he sometimes became so frustrated that he physically attacked his teachers and classmates.
Ms. Hewlett enrolled her son, who is autistic and turns 12 in July, at Erikson four years ago. “Now the boy can write,” she said. “The boy can read. The boy can spell.”
Alternative programs exist for a reason, writes Ms. Cornelius. Seriously disabled students get a chance at an education and other students and teachers get a shot at a safe, peaceful classroom.