Special Education Gets Poor Grades

Article excerpt

If asked to grade special education in America, James M. Kauffman would give it a C-, reflecting excellence in meeting some important needs, but barely passing in the over-all level of services being provided. Kauffman, William Clay Parrish Jr. Professor of Education at the University of Virginia, co-author of a textbook on special education, and a national advocate of special education reform, maintains that "No one is facing up to the desperation of special education children and teachers. Special education is like a train that's headed for a wreck because it's on the wrong track."

He indicates that it is in trouble partly because of a dramatic increase in those with special needs and partly because of misguided approaches to special education in the schools. He cites, for example, substantial cuts during the 1980s in compensatory education programs, increased limits on deductions for child care, greater restrictions on earned income in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, tighter eligibility requirements in school lunch and food stamp programs. and tougher guidelines on housing assistance as exacerbating the problems of the poor.

"Pulling the supports from such programs has increased the number of [youngsters] who live in poverty, are neglected or abused, and have inadequate housing and nutrition." As a result, there are many more children with disabilities or at serious risk for school failure. He concludes that the next decade of special education will be unusually difficult. Among the reasons:

* Substandard conditions of life; violence in families, schools, and communities; substance abuse; the rise of sexually transmitted diseases; lack of appropriate health care and social services; and the increasing numbers of teenage parents--all contributing to new and more severe disabilities in children. …