NYC's Special Ed Reform Moving Slowly

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Chalkbeat reporter Patrick Wall discussed his recent in-depth report on the state of special education reform in New York City with WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show on Tuesday.

New York City has been trying to accommodate more special needs students into general education classrooms, a practice known as inclusion. This means they should be able to attend classes in their local schools instead of being sent to schools and other neighborhoods that may have more specialized teachers. Wall said New York City has lagged behind other cities and has not lived up to federal law requiring that students be placed in the least restrictive environment whenever possible.

A caller named Sam said the city's special education reform has been "uneven at best." A special education high school teacher named Angela phoned in to say that special education students often come with a variety of issues that need to be addressed, and that integrating them into general education classrooms can be "very distracting for them." She said smaller class sizes would be more effective.

Wall said he found other teachers and families who said similar things, and worry they need to advocate strongly for their students or they won't get their services. But he also said there are ways to successfully include special education students in mixed classrooms, and he mentioned a popular program in East Harlem.

Students with special needs continue to lag well behind their general education peers. On the latest state tests, fewer than 9 percent of students with special needs more proficient on their math tests and fewer than 6 percent of them were proficient in English.