Panel Urges More Spec.-Ed. Students, Money Go To Regular Classes

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An independent panel charged with finding ways to improve New York City's troubled special-education system has renewed its earlier call for shifting more students, services, and money into general education.

Former Chancellor Ramon C. Cortines, who resigned last fall, requested the report a year ago, and many of its conclusions echoed those of an earlier draft. (See Education Week, May 31, 1995.)

The report's authors, five faculty members from New York University, hope their proposals will transcend changes in administration. Both the city and the state have new education leaders, with Rudy F. Crew as the schools chancellor and Richard P. Mills as the state commissioner of education.

Mr. Crew said in a recent statement that the report "will play a significant role in our continuing effort to provide the most effective education for special-education students."

Among its 14 main recommendations are: decentralizing the special-education administration, revamping state funding formulas to remove the incentives schools have to educate children in more-restrictive settings, and creating an accountability and quality-control body.

The nyu panel delayed release of its final report, which was to have been published in October, until Dec. 12 to allow Mr. Crew to settle into his new job, said Norm Fruchter, one of the report's authors and a co-director of the university's Institute for Education and Social Policy.

"The fact that there are more new players, more fiscal constraints, and more focus on the extent to which New York segregates kids than ever before" could increase pressure on school officials to revamp the system, Mr. Fruchter said.

Nearly 140,000 of New York City's roughly 1 million public school children are in special education, and the district has long been criticized for having one of the most segregated special-education systems in the nation.

Large Bureaucracy

More than 60 percent of disabled students ages 6 to 11 attend separate classes, far above the national average of 19.8 percent. Special education consumes almost a quarter of the district's budget of nearly $8 billion.

Too many students are in special education not because they have disabilities, the report maintains, but because general education fails to meet their needs. And a bloated bureaucracy and high transportation costs siphon funds from the classroom, the authors say.

The final report includes more detail on how to implement the panel's proposals, first made last May, and clarifies that some of the reforms envisioned should not apply to the district's most severely disabled students.

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