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ERIC Number: ED505857
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2004
Pages: 6
Abstractor: ERIC
The Road to Nowhere: The Illusion and Broken Promises of Special Education in the Baltimore City and Other Public School Systems. The Abell Report. Volume 17, No.4
Hettleman, Kalman R.
Abell Foundation
Students with disabilities across the nation, including Baltimore City, are failing to achieve their academic potential. Inadequate instruction and other inappropriate or unlawful practices cause and conceal the dysfunction of special education. At long last, the illusion and broken promises of special education have been publicly exposed. Under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), school systems across the country have been forced to disclose the abysmally low academic test scores of students with disabilities. Education Week, the national education newspaper, put out a special edition in January 2004 focused solely on special education. Its survey found a chasm between the performance of general and special education students in every state, with differences typically ranging from 30 to 40 percent. "Thanks to the NCLB generated data that's now flowing in, we know more about the disability gap," says one observer. "On average, disabled students lag farther behind their non-disabled classmates than African American and Hispanic students lag behind their white classmates." In the Maryland School Assessments for this year (2003-2004) in reading, the percentages of BCPSS special education students who achieved a "proficient" or higher score were: grade 3, 28.6 percent; grade 5, 22.6 percent; grade 8, 5.4 percent; and grade 10, 4.9 percent. For mathematics, the scores were even lower. The percentages of special education students who achieved "proficient" or above were: grade 3, 24.6 percent; grade 5, 16.9 percent; grade 8, 1.7 percent; and high school geometry, 0.5 percent. The third grade and fifth grade scores improved over the prior year. Yet all scores remain very low or rock-bottom. Even more alarming, the vast gap between general and special education students has widened in recent years and now averages more than 35 percentage points in reading and more than 29 percentage points in math. Furthermore, BCPSS special education students trail far beir counterparts in the rest of Maryland. The longer students receive special education services, the steeper their academic decline. Beyond low test scores, other indicators of negligible academic achievement are the high dropout and low graduation rates. The report recommends actions that should be taken by BCPSS: (1) BCPSS must change its culture of denial of the practices that underlie the lack of academic achievement of students with learning difficulties; (2) openly examine the special education system and raise expectations based on research showing that these students can achieve at much higher levels if research-based instruction is delivered; (3) stop exaggerating the progress made by these students; and (4) shift the focus of special education from procedural compliance to quality of instruction, undo the inappropriate or unlawful practices described in this article, and allow special educators to exercise their professional judgment in prescribing and delivering services without fear of retribution. All the while, BCPSS must continue to improve identification and intervention for early reading difficulties among its general education students. The best way to solve most of the problems of poor special education instruction is to prevent most students with learning difficulties from entering special education in the first place. When interventions are not provided in general education, children fall behind quickly, and special education is then asked to bear the burden of remediation. But remediation is much harder to achieve than early prevention of reading problems. Reform efforts along these lines would shine the national spotlight on BCPSS while illuminating similar issues in school districts across Maryland and the country. We owe our children and our teachers a much better system. The legal and moral right to special education programs can be fulfilled for many more students. But these transformations will happen only if all of us - in education, the political arena and the general public - sound the alarm and advocate for change. The Abell Report also includes "Abell Salutes", recognizing "The Baltimore Stars Coalition," Teaching young basketball players how to "use basketball instead of being used by basketball." [For full report, see ED505856.]
Abell Foundation. 111 South Calvert Street Suite 2300, Baltimore, MD 21202. Tel: 410-545-1300; Fax: 410-539-6579; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Collected Works - Serial; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Elementary Secondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: Abell Foundation
Identifiers - Location: Maryland
Identifiers - Laws, Policies, & Programs: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; No Child Left Behind Act 2001