Mixed feelings on Special Education Reform

| aaltman@queenscourier.com |

Iris Rivera fears for the future of her son Nicholas’ education. The fourth-grade student, struggling with a learning disability, will matriculate with rest of the city’s student body through the upcoming Special Education Reform, set to roll out this fall.

According to a representative from the Department of Education (DOE), beginning in September, kindergarten, sixth and ninth grades will begin integrating special education students with general education pupils. The program is expected to be phased in over the next several years, combining children with varying degrees of disabilities with general education.

“He isn’t fully ready to be in a regular education class,” said Rivera. “It’s going to confuse him and he’s going to feel like he’s behind.”

Nicholas excels in mathematics and science, shining during in-class experiments. Rivera says he struggles with reading comprehension, skipping over words and struggling to form complete sentences. Several times a week, Nicholas attends specialized classes, assisting him with writing and reading. Rivera feels her son’s current school set up has improved him greatly.

“They’re pushing him to get better and do more,” said Rivera of her son’s current curriculum. “If they integrate, it will set him back all the way and he’ll be totally lost.”

Rivera believes integration could also have negative social consequences, fearing other students may tease her son.

According to the Department of Education (DOE), 30.7 percent of students with disabilities graduated from high school in four years in 2010.

The DOE argues that increased interaction between students with disabilities and those in general education raises scores on standardized tests, diminishes truancy and disruptive behavior and betters their chances for employment and independent living after high school. According to the DOE, these improvements occurred in all students with disabilities, regardless of the severity or type of handicap, gender or socioeconomic standing. The agency cited studies, stating that self-contained classrooms provide an absence of positive behavior models and have a negative impact on classroom environment.

A Universal Design for Learning (UDL) will be implemented at all schools throughout the city, according to the DOE, providing equal opportunities for students to learn, with or without disabilities.

Margaret Bena, a general education teacher in District 28 in Jamaica, believes integration will have positive affects, forcing students of varying abilities to work collaboratively.

According to Bena, students labeled as special education merely require certain modifications to achieve core standards, eventually taking the same statewide examinations. She feels integration will assist special needs children with social interaction skills.

Bena’s school has had inclusion classes since she began teaching there four years ago. She says the capacity for an integrated classroom is 25 kids – 10 special education and 15 general education. Each class will also have two teachers, one of which is trained to instruct special-needs children. Bena said the average New York City classroom has 30 kids and one teacher.

  • Brian

    Having witness the effects of special education in Canada, all I can say is that the added pressure on the school teaching staff, and impact of the presence of special needs childern, will be a net loss to the school. Having special needs childern in general classrooms, creates, to a degree, a disruption to the general classroom. And even though I sympathize with the parents of a special needs child, the classroom as a whole can suffer.

    • Harriet J. Brown

      This is a terrible idea. Many children in Special Education just can’t function in a regular class. Why are they doing this? This will be terrible for children and teachers and, with letter grades for schools, terrible for schools.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/jason.h.gold Jason H Gold

    These parents represent the opposite end of the spectrum from the inclusion camp, and the comments here make me wonder if they might be on to something. Inclusion is important, but so is a genuine peer group. Students are happiest when they have friends in their classrooms, and they need to have that as an inclusion goal. Another words, inclusion should not necessarily mean spreading the kids out all over the school, but perhaps including them in large enough numbers in several classrooms that they have friends and peers in the classes too.


    Susan Gordon

  • Michael Gliona

    Looks like this parent doesn’t have “mixed feelings” at all. Forced “full inclusion” is a disaster for students with special needs.

    • Anonymous

      As an inclusion teacher, I have seen the benefits for students that have disabilities. Many students have shown improvement with two teachers who plan and work together to ensure that students receive an education that meets their needs, more specifically ,differentiated instruction. This will be an ongoing process, determining what will work, but it is worth it. Students may not have the opportunity to work and live in segregated communities. It is better to prepare now to have a better chance for successful independent living.

  • http://WestEdCenterforPreventionandEarlyIntervention Silvia DeRuvo

    There is no research out there that shows that segretating students with disabilities has had a positive effect in outcomes. A 30% graduation rate does not spell out success to me! We have to do things differently in special education and the DOE is on the right track for improving outcomes for these students based on research. There is no segregated work place for these children! They need to learn to be successful in society and their current society is school!

  • Ellen Trachtenberg

    perhaps people who create sped policy should spend time in sped classrooms in schools in low income communities. Sped reform should be created by teachers who know the inside of a sped class.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1637367296 Bozena Syska

    Once again administrators set a policy w/o considering if it will work. Some SPED students can make it in inclusion, others can’t because they need the slower pace of a smaller classroom. Put these kids in a general education class and the result is they feel overwhelmed and some of the brighter students are bored. Two teachers won’t make a difference. The SPED teacher will have to focus attention on the students who can’t keep up, effectively leaving the Gen Ed teacher teaching the remainder. And you wonder why the rest of the world is ahead of US in education. Over there they want to teach, not set policy.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, those opposing these changes need to read the research. These kids don’t need slower and easier; they need it faster and harder. They need to catch up NOW, and the general ed classroom with higher expectations is where to do it. (Why is it taking NY so long to do this anyway???)

  • Anonymous

    Yes, those opposing these changes need to read the research. These kids don’t need slower and easier; they need faster and harder. They need to catch up NOW, and the general ed classroom with higher expectations is where to do it. (Why is it taking NY so long to do this anyway???)

    • Betty Cole

      Why oh why do we insist that everyone learn the same material? All the oth’tier countries that have higher scores than we do don’t teach everyone. They dump kids fairly early and put them into other less academic environments; hence their “high scores”. What happened to vocational tracks and other opportunites. I could be exposed to astro physics from now til the cows come home and would still fail. And guess what? I’m not classified as learning disabled.

  • Betty Cole

    Inclusion is a pipedream perpetuated by personnel who do not understand the dynamics. If the student doesn’t understand, in class tutoring disrupts the flow of the class, hinders the teacher and the other students and ostracizes the student who is having the difficulty. It makes the special education teacher an aide or para and denigrates their education. Students who have difficulties benefit from small group instruction.

  • mary

    Great article with authentic concerns from a parent with a Sp Ed child.