District to revise special ed program

Expectations too low, says superintendent

Monday, December 3, 2012
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— Too many Schenectady children are sent to special education classrooms, where lower expectations virtually ensure they never catch up with their peers, Superintendent Laurence Spring said.

While he implements a turnaround plan to respond to widespread academic problems in the district, Spring is simultaneously reorganizing the special education division.

“It’s an area we need to revamp. We need to do better in that area,” Spring said.

An outside group is studying the school’s special education and will issue recommendations in about four months. District Management Council, of Cambridge, Mass., is reviewing student data, observing teachers and interviewing parents now to prepare those recommendations.

Spring said he thinks the district is classifying too many students as special education students. Currently, 18 percent of the student body is in special education — far higher than other high-poverty, urban areas, he said.

“And it’s increasing,” he added.

The district also seems to be doing too much for its special education students, he said, rather than pushing them to be as independent as possible.

“We’ve got an awful lot of one-on-one aides, for example,” he said.

He suspects that many students have been sent to special education after a teacher exhausted his or her set of teaching techniques without success. That’s a common problem throughout the nation, he said.

But, he said, other teachers should intervene before the child is sent to a separate classroom.

“Special education is an awful lot like surgery,” Spring said. “Going into special education is harmful. The research has shown, statistically, large-scale, we inherently have lower expectations for those kids.”

He thinks most students in special education can learn to read at grade level, pass high school classes and graduate with a regular diploma. Only about 1 percent of the district’s students are so disabled that they cannot meet the regular school standards, he said.

“All other kids should be meeting these standards,” he said.

He argued that special education was intended to help students “close the gap” and catch up with their peers. But instead they fall behind, he said.

Among his concerns is the certification of teachers used in Schenectady’s special education classrooms.

The students don’t always get the same level of education as regular students.

“They don’t necessarily have a teacher certified in math teaching them math,” he said.

Given his concerns about the program, he said he wants the district to completely reorganize special education so that teachers pull students out of class for short, intense catch-up sessions, rather than putting them in a separate classroom all day.

Previous experience

“That child will be better off if you can bring the services to the child,” he said.

Spring has long experience with special education. In his first teaching job, he was part of a group of three teachers at East Irondequoit Central School District who tried a new inclusion program, in which classes had a mix of special and regular education students. At the time, inclusion was a new concept.

Although Spring wants more students to get extra help through pull-out programs, the district already has dozens of teachers running those programs.

However, officials have struggled to keep them in the budget. There have been many cuts in that area in recent years, and teachers in 2011 protested that the extra-help program was being changed too drastically and too quickly. Then-Superintendent John Yagielski backed off on some of his changes, but said the district needed to convert the extra-help program into a more effective model.

He argued for an early-intervention model, in which most extra-help teachers would focus on students in kindergarten through second grade. The goal, he said, would be to catch students before they fell too far behind their peers.

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December 3, 2012
8:04 a.m.
birmy says...

The school psychologist does testing every 3 years and BASED ON THOSE RESULTS along with committee on special education teams will a student be considered for special education programs. It has nothing to do with a teacher exhausting his or her set of teaching techniques. LOL. More teacher bashing. I love it. However, I know that when Superintendents look to save money and have exhausted their ability to do so they can arbitrarily decide that too great of a percentage of students are in special education. The article states 18 percent of the student body is special education. Believe it or not, that number is probably low for Schenectady (guessing).

There are special "life skills" and "emotional disturbance" classrooms that usually allow for a student to have 1 teacher for most of the day and subsequently one management style. Yes. Those teachers in those special classrooms DO NOT have all 4 core area (English, Math, Social Studies and Science) certifications in addition to special education. Life Skills students can be functioning at the 1st or 2nd grade level. If you think a student functioning at the 2nd grade level should be in regular Junior High or High School classes and will learn the material then that is what you believe. If you don't know basic math facts then learning linear functions and multi-step equations will be very difficult. Students labeled with Emotional Disturbance might have skills approaching grade level in some instances but their behaviors greatly impact the building and classrooms which is why they spend the majority of their time with 1 teacher and 1 structure with appropriate behavior plans in place.

Superintendent Yagielski is looking to save some money. He also believes these students should get less teacher assistants and be declassified and thus receive less services. I cannot wait to see the report the company will issue in 4 months.

December 3, 2012
9:25 a.m.
riverrat346531 says...

Oh please... my nephews are in speial ed because they are simply to lazy to do the work and my sister is to lazy to force them. I've been staying there sine September and I have yet to see either boy bring home work even once. They stay up all night playing video games and she doesn't "feel like" arguing with them. Neither one should be in speial ed.

December 3, 2012
3:30 p.m.
schdyres1 says...

The 'early intervention" program mentioned, REMOVED many remedial (interventional) reading teachers and math teachers from the early grades. This was not a way to provide "early intervention," but a way to save more than a million dollars. True Early Intervention is crucial to catching students before they fall into the cracks, and have a very difficult time catching up, if ever. The previous "Early Intervention" program was working before it was all but scrapped. The SCSD would do well to re-establish that program.

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