Special Ed Reform Brings NYC More in Line With National Trend

Lauren Williams's picture
Friday, August 10, 2012

After a two-year pilot phase, changes to the teaching of special education students are coming to almost all the schools in the massive New York City public school system.

The theme of the reforms is inclusion, both on the individual school level and systemwide. While many of the details and mechanics are still unclear, and will differ from school to school, education officials say a successful special education program will be one that demonstrates flexibility and as much integration as an individual student can handle, based on his or her particular challenges.

Shael Polakow-Suransky, the city’s chief academic officer, said he wanted to see fewer “self-contained” classes, which he termed “an academic death sentence” for many special needs students, and more mixed classes of nondisabled and disabled children.

“What we’ve seen is, when kids have access to the general ed curriculum — when they’re able to be included with their peers with the right supports — they often actually rise to the challenge and are able to succeed and do much better,” Mr. Polakow-Suransky said.

City education officials also cited research that shows special education students who spend more time in a general education classroom have higher scores on standardized math and reading tests, fewer absences from school and fewer referrals for disruptive behavior. This stands in stark comparison to the graduation rates of students with disabilities who spend their entire career in separate classes: their graduation rate is 5 percent, far below the city’s overall graduation rate of 65 percent.

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