on Excellence in Special Education: Recommendations
York City Schools’ Chancellor Harold Levy recently testified before
the Commission on Excellence in Special Education, which was established
in October of 2001 to examine and make recommendations on federal,
state and local special education programs and to focus on issues
related to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
1.1 million students, ours is the largest school system in the
country,” he said. “So our experience is especially relevant.
In addition, I have had a personal experience—my sister died of
polio—with the school system before IDEA was enacted. Let me tell
you, it was a scourge upon my family.”
I’m certainly for re-certification,” added Levy. “IDEA has been
overwhelmingly successful. It has raised the quality of special
education. However, I’m equally passionate about where it has
not served the educational interests of disabled students well,
the areas where improvement is necessary.”
According to the chancellor, the main problem area is misidentification,
which leads to overrepresentation. “Too many kids with simple
behavioral problems are classified as being in need of special
education,” he said. “I believe those students would be better
served by intervention/prevention programs in general education.
‘Acting out’ is not necessarily a sign of emotional disturbance.”
Rather than any systemic bias, Chancellor Levy is convinced that
“overrepresentation is primarily the result of the lack of intervention
services in the general education environment.” As a solution,
he recommended the “whole school approach.”
creates a single, seamless service delivery system for all students,
disabled and non-disabled alike,” he said. “They are predicated
upon the belief that students are more alike than different and
that integrating resources result in improved student outcomes
for all. This strategy puts an end to the unhealthy and unproductive
competition for resources between general education and special
education, where spending can be three times higher per pupil
than in general education.”
Due to this reform, the number of city public school students
placed in special education has already decreased by 27 percent.
At the same time, the number of children taken out of special
education and put into mainstream classes has increased by 43
The chancellor’s comments were followed by the testimony of Dr.
Howard Abikoff of the New York University School of Medicine Child
Study Center. Dr. Abikoff spoke of the need for improved expertise
by school personnel in identifying students with problems relating
to ADD and ADHD.
now, diagnoses are made too quickly, and often by the parents
or by untrained personnel,” he said. “There is a crying need for
better teacher training in identifying these conditions in order
to better address the children’s specific educational needs. Schools
must make better use of the school psychologist as well in this
area. He or she is the best-trained on-site personnel and if he’s
not, he can be best trained to facilitate identification and diagnosis
of ADD and ADHD.”#
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