Special education woes Baltimore schools: Costly program is ineffective and reduces resources available to other pupils.

September 22, 1998

THE BALTIMORE public schools are in disarray -- the result of factors that include too little learning throughout the system and too many special education students, stemming from a well-intentioned lawsuit gone haywire.

According to a series of stories by Sun reporters Debbie M. Price, Liz Bowie and Stephen Henderson, a shocking 17.6 percent of Baltimore pupils (compared to a national average of 12 percent and New York City's 7.7 percent) have been assigned to special education classes. While the city ranks dead last in Maryland in spending per pupil for regular education at $3,100, its special education program spends $9,700 per pupil. And while spending for special education has grown 50 percent in the last six years, funding for the rest of the students has increased only 7 percent.

The special education program has been bloated by students who haven't learned to read in the primary grades. But the series of stories -- concluding today -- suggests that even years of special education classes fail to turn many non-readers into readers. Exact numbers aren't available because the schools don't track test scores for special ed students after fifth grade -- an unconscionable lack of accountability of the sort the lawsuit was designed to address.

Meanwhile, during the decade since Vaughn G. vs. the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, et. al. was settled, the overall quality of the city's schools has continued to decline, in part because of the diversion of much-needed funds to the costly, but inadequate, special ed system.

The schools must begin to address the system's deficiencies by re-testing the pupils now in special ed to determine whether the placements are correct. That would help ensure that students who truly need it receive the instruction and services they deserve. At the same time, the schools need to institute a citywide remedial education program staffed by specialists. Not acting would mean the system continues to deprive too many children -- in special education classes and the rest of the schools' programs -- of the chance to succeed that they deserve.

Pub Date: 9/22/98

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