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Small Schools and Spec Ed

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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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I worked for 6 years in a high school of about 1000 students. We had around 110 students of varying special needs in our population, but 10-15 of those came from another community that had no program for students with their specific needs.

Now I have finished my second year of work in a small (350 students in the junior/senior high school, about 750 total in K-12), rural school. My official class list in working with junior high students is about 12-15, give and take the move-in's, move-out's. No, we do not have a lot of resources where we are, out in the middle of corn and bean fields so far from the big city. What we DO have is a small, family-oriented staff that will go the distance for any one of our kids, those with and without disabilities. When something happens to one of them, it happens to all of us.

It is not technology and all the latest fads in education that make an impact on our youth. It is caring individuals who are willing to come early, stay late, give up their prep or lunch time to help, or other practical times to help any child who is struggling. I have allowed many kids who "fall between the cracks" to come to my classroom for study hall or other tutoring, even though they are not on my official "class list," because when they are successful, our school is successful and our community wins.

Who was it that said something along these lines: "There is no limit to what you can accomplish as long as you don't care who gets the credit." (I think it was Harry S. Truman, but I'm not positive.) THAT should be our attitude in special and regular education at all times. We should do whatever we can for all of our students. Their success is our success.

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