The two-year pilot program experimenting with changes to the way special needs students are educated in New York City is set to conclude — and soon, nearly all the schools in the New York City public school system will begin adopting inclusion changes into their own academic program. The aim of the changes is to allow special needs students to integrate more fully into the regular student body. District officials are attempting to move away from the more traditional method of special ed instruction with segregated classes, and the city’s chief academic officer,Shael Polakow-Suransky, sums up the old programs that focus on “self-containment” as an academic death sentence.
The city’s conclusion is that students with special needs should get access to the general education curriculum, not only because it offers a more rigorous academic program, but because more interaction with the rest of the school’s student body will prepare the students for life after graduation.
“What we’ve seen is, when kids have access to the general ed curriculum — when they’re able to be included with their peers with the right supports — they often actually rise to the challenge and are able to succeed and do much better,” Mr. Polakow-Suransky said.
According to recent research, students’ standardized test results go up the more they spend time in general education classrooms. They also have fewer behavioral problems and miss fewer days of school. Special ed kids who aren’t segregated graduate at rates closer to the city’s general graduation rate of 65%. Students who are primarily educated in special education classrooms have an abysmal 5% graduation rate.
Nearly 40% of the city’s 165,000 special needs students are educated wholly in special needs classrooms with no opportunity to take courses with peers following a standard curriculum. The city lags behind other districts where inclusion has been the preferred method of educating special needs students for at least the last decade.
It isn’t clear how each school will take to the mandate to integrate their special education students into the general student body. Although many are expecting some growing pains — especially due to the fact that the process of how it is to be done hasn’t been fully worked out — in the end, the hope is that the students will benefit.
The city will start implementing the changes in the incoming classes of kindergarten, sixth grade and ninth grade. Principals and teachers have been undergoing training on how to meet the needs of every student who enters their school, how to work with families on the students’ individualized education plans, or I.E.P.s, and how to support teachers who will have special needs students in their classrooms.