A Kafkaesque Proposal
By John J. Russell, Ed.D.
In an article titled “For City Schools, A Mainstreaming on Special Needs,” that appeared in the April 29 edition of The New York Times, Jennifer Medina reported that in New York City approximately 17 percent of the students are classified as needing special education services and that only 25 percent of these students received a regular diploma last year. The Bloomberg administration’s response to these abysmal results is to propose placing these special-needs students in regular education classrooms, where an equally appalling 50 percent of the general education students graduate. While paying lip service to increasing accountability and educational opportunity, the Department of Education’s real motivation is to cut funding to special education. In the end, the Department of Education would like to dramatically accelerate the integration of special education with general education to save money.
This proposal could have been written by Kafka himself. The twisted logic of the city’s education department goes something like this. In order to help special-needs students, we will return them to the general education program that failed them in the first place. This, it is alleged, will give principals and local districts more flexibility in how to educate these special-needs students. In yet another Kafka-like twist, the proposal does not provide any professional development for the teachers who will have these special-needs students in their classes. It is difficult to imagine how anyone could consider this a recipe to improve educational outcomes; in fact it sounds like a formula for disaster.
The net effect of these recommendations is to give local districts and principals a great deal of discretion in providing special-education services, much as districts had 30 years ago before the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). As deplorable as the current results are for special-education students, the situation was far worse prior to the passage of IDEA in 1975. With increasing pressure to reduce budgets, it is reasonable to assume that these recommendations will result in far fewer funds being available for educating classified students who need additional support to succeed or for training the regular-education teachers who will have them in their classrooms.
These proposals should be of grave concern to every parent and educator committed to having each student reach his or her full potential. #
John J. Russell, Ed.D., is head of the Windward School.