Monday, March 15, 2010

Report: Pittsburgh Schools Identifying Too Many Students as Eligible for Special Education

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A recent report commissioned by the Pittsburgh Public Schools concludes that it identifies too many students as eligible for special education. The report was conducted by evaluators of the Council of The Great City Schools, an association of very large school districts. A news article on the report by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is available here. You can read the entire report here.

The report authors noted that "...that too many teachers and staff members were using special education as an escape hatch when they did not know what else to do with students who were experiencing learning or behavioral problems..." The evaluators found that 19.2% of Pittsburgh students are identified as eligible for special education. This contrasts with a rate in the country as a whole of 12.1%.
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6 comments:

  1. I hope you'll follow up on this story. Our school district was just cited on this in our state monitoring report (unsurprisingly, given an increase from 16-22% in five years). A consultant described SPED as "the only game in town." Our putative solution is RTI, but with no infrastructure for tier II, and no money to create it, I have to wonder who that will be managed. Anyway, maybe our little 2,600 pupil district will be able to learn from Pittsburg's plans.

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  2. Thanks for your comments MC

    Jim

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  3. This problem sometimes runs concurrently with findings of disproportionality. Let's say you have a six to ten percent higher incidence of eligibility among young black males with respect to emotional disturbance. Can you say students will not be eligible for programs and services through special education once the district passes a certain arbitrary cut-off? Do you put additional language in the procedures (as is done now with Specific Learning Disabilities), something to the effect that a student will not be found emotionally disturbed if the targeted behaviors can be defined as normal within the community standards? Does cultural competence include coming to accept behaviors like threats to staff, abusive language and bullying in school? Do we need more alternative (regular education settings) that better fit the differently social needs of these populations?

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  4. Anon,

    thank you for your comment.

    Jim

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  5. Being a former SpEd teacher, educational diagnostician, principal, SpEd director and now a educational consultant, I am amazed that school district let themselves get in this situation before they decide that something may be wrong. If my school started to go over 10% in special education I would start looking at what is going on. I would not set an arbitrary cut off but I would want to make sure that the assessments were correct.

    Unfortunately, many teachers, administrator and even some psychologist do not understand Emotional Disturbance. Too often teachers and administrator confuse Emotional Disturbance with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). ODD does not meet criteria for SpEd services. You can be ED and may or may not have ODD. My times psychologist will give the school what they want.

    However, with the numbers reported by PPS, I would start looking at the assessments
    The question should be, what types of services are these students receiving or are they just being housed?

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  6. Johnny,

    Thanks for your comment.

    Jim

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