Lack of Accountability in Spec.-Ed. Program Blasted

By Laura Miller — July 13, 1994 2 min read

The New York City school system has no way of determining whether the 130,000 students enrolled in special education are improving their skills, according to a report by the city comptroller.

Although the $1.7 billion allotted for special education is nearly one-quarter of the district’s $7.5 billion budget, the board of education has no comprehensive policy for measuring the program’s effectiveness, the report says.

“The board spends twice as much per child on those in special ed., but there is nothing to indicate that we are getting our money’s worth,’' Alan G. Hevesi, the city comptroller, said. The average per-pupil cost in special education is $13,000, compared with $6,201 for other students, according to the report, which was released last month.

Shocking Scenario

The report follows months of scathing attacks on the city’s special-education program. Early last month, the board of education reported that the city’s 14 most violent schools were all devoted to special education. Advocacy groups and academics were calling the city’s program a “dumping ground’’ for troubled youths.

Two months earlier, The New York Times had published a three-part series titled “A Class Apart: Special Education in New York City.’' It said the system has “grown unchecked for 20 years’’ and places students--many of them mislabeled--into a virtual black hole of dead-end classes.

Galen Kirkland, the executive director of the New York City-based Advocates for Children, called the city’s program a “shocking scenario,’' but he expressed hope that the comptroller’s report would have an impact on special-education policy.

Schools Chancellor Ramon C. Cortines responded to the report with a promise to establish a standards committee for special education and to revamp the special-education assessment system.

The study involved a random sample of 50 high school students who were in the city’s special-education program in October 1992.

The auditors planned to measure improvements in students’ skills by determining whether students had met the goals on their individual education plans and by reviewing students’ standardized test scores for mathematics and reading.

But the auditors found that schools are not required to keep copies of I.E.P.'s with “dates of mastery.’' Standardized-test scores proved equally unavailing. The board of education maintains a file of students’ test scores, but students with disabilities often take the exams under modified conditions, such as increased time.

Because of the variations, the auditors said they could not reliably compare test scores to measure the program’s success.