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In Massachusetts, special education has become less of a stigma to disabled children and more of a perk to savvy parents, according to a recent special report in The Boston Globe.

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"Special Ed, A System Disabled" evaluates the state's 25-year-old special education law, the first of its kind and among the most expansive in the nation.

"What was once a pioneering advance in civil rights for the disabled has evolved into an entitlement program increasingly out of control," concludes the two-part report, which ran March 30-31.

The newspaper reports that 154,000 of the state's students receive assistance under the Massachusetts law--almost 17 percent, the highest proportion of any state. Vague eligibility standards, the report argues, have made it possible for parents to secure for their children "everything from homework help to private school vouchers."

As a result, special education expenses for Massachusetts topped $1 billion in 1995. Many students with behavior problems such as truancy and acting out are also being categorized as learning or emotionally disabled, the report says.

But parents who exploit the law's generous guidelines, the newspaper notes, are only part of the problem. Equally at fault is "the influence of an emerging cottage industry of lawyers and special education evaluators," who are quick to attribute any gap between student potential and performance to a learning disability.

"Everybody else is part of the new global economy. It's time the schools joined in." That's the central argument of a March 29 article in The Economist that draws several lessons from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study.

The TIMSS researchers compared math and science test scores of 13-year-olds from 41 countries and released the findings in November. ("U.S. Students About Average in Global Study," Nov. 27, 1996.)

The article "Education and the wealth of nations," offers an international perspective on the study, which received widespread publicity in the United States. The London-based newsmagazine dubs Singapore the "teacher's pet" among nations for scoring highest in both math and science. The TIMSS researchers ranked the United States 28th and 17th, respectively.

But more important than the test scores themselves, The Economist article contends, is what they may reveal about our ideas on how to improve education: "It seems that how much a country can afford to spend has less than you might think to do with how well educated its children are."

--IHSAN K. TAYLOR [email protected]

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