Special Education

Small Schools and Spec Ed

By Christina A. Samuels — May 13, 2008 1 min read

I was hoping that Implementation Study of Smaller Learning Communities: Final Report (pdf) released Monday by the U.S. Department of Education might have some tidbits about how these school structures have affected students with disabilities. The federal government provided funding to districts so that they could start these programs. And, if the idea is to break large, impersonal schools down into nurturing structures that cater to individual students’ needs, students in special education would seem to be an ideal audience.

But, no luck. The only information about students with disabilities contained in the report, which examined 119 small schools in 2002 and 2003, is that they tend to have fewer students with disabilities on a percentage basis than do large high schools overall. About 61 percent of large high schools have a population of 10 to 15 percent students with disabilities, compared with 36 percent of small schools.

The small schools also reported needing more resources for special education: 49 percent said there was “some need” for more special education resources, while 13 percent said there was a “great need.”

The study’s authors note that the results focused mainly on school structure. Only limited information was available on student outcomes.

Others people have serious problems with small schools and how they enroll students with disabilities. From an article I wrote last year about the small schools movement in New York City:

...school size is no excuse for not offering services mandated under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, said David C. Bloomfield, a professor and the head of the educational leadership program at Brooklyn College, a branch of the City University of New York. Mr. Bloomfield, the past president of New York’s Citywide Council on High Schools, has been an outspoken critic of the enrollment policy at the small schools... New York officials tout the success of the small schools, which have higher graduation rates than other schools in the city, but those that enroll special-needs students accept children whose disabilities aren’t very serious, Mr. Bloomfield said. Then the schools “wave a banner of success,” he said, “when they have a thumb on the scale in their favor.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.