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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

How schools fail special-ed students

Almost all students with disabilities are capable of graduating from high school on time, writes Hechinger’s Sarah Butrymowicz and Jackie Mader. Yet only 65 percent earn a diploma in four years, compared to 83 percent of students overall.

Michael McLaughlin and his mother, Michelle, at Michael’s 2013 graduation. With an IQ of 115, but also dyslexia and bipolar disorder, Michael was not prepared for college or job training. Photo: Michelle McLaughlin

Thirteen percent of public-school students receive special-education services, they write. “Experts estimate that up to 90 percent of students with disabilities are capable of graduating high school fully prepared to tackle college or a career if they receive proper support along the way.”

High school graduates who were in special education are less likely to complete college and have lower earnings than their classmates.

Parents complain of poorly trained teachers, inadequate funding of support services and, most of all, low expectations, write Butrymowicz and Mader.

Sometimes capable students are  “pushed into ‘alternate’ diploma programs, limiting their future options,” they write.

Few teacher education programs require more than one class on students with disabilities. Meanwhile, special education teachers have to balance completing extensive federal paperwork with planning lessons and teaching classes. And they aren’t always taught everything they need to know to handle the full range of disabilities they face in the classroom.

It’s hard to know what expectations are realistic for special-education students, who have varying issues.

The story is the first in a series, Willing, able and forgotten, on special-needs students in high school.

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