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A Look at Hawaii Special Education After Court Oversight

Don't miss this impressive series of stories in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser about Hawaii's special education program, five years after the end of court oversight in the wake of a class-action suit filed on behalf of the state's children with special education needs.

I've linked to the first story, but the related stories are also thoughtful and thorough. They tell the story of a special education system that appears to be improved from the state entered into a consent decree, but that still allows too many children to slip through the cracks. This particular article, "Left Out and Lagging," gives some sobering statistics:

Statewide, just 3 percent of special-education 10th-graders are proficient in math, and barely a quarter meet benchmarks for reading. Last year, Hawaii special-needs eighth-graders scored 19 points below the national average in math for students with disabilities on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. And a troubling 97 percent of Hawaii fourth-graders with special needs failed the reading portions on the NAEP, compared with 88 percent nationally.

But within those numbers, educators still point to what they consider success stories:

Education officials also point to Campbell High School as a potential model for increasing student achievement. Three years ago, 99 percent of special-education 10th-graders at the Ewa Beach campus tested below proficient in math. Almost all of them were "well below." Eighty-nine percent were not proficient in reading.


In the 2008-09 year the school took drastic measures. It went to almost 100 percent inclusion, which means most special-education students—except those with the highest needs—were in general-education classrooms all day. It adopted "co-teaching," putting two teachers (a special-education teacher and a content teacher) in the same classroom. And it stressed "rapid intervention" for students grappling with material or in need of extra help....

In the 2009-10 school year, after a few more tweaks, the school saw considerable improvements. That year, more than a quarter of 10th-graders met math learning benchmarks—from just 1 percent three years earlier. The number of students proficient in reading grew to 42 percent.

Though money is not the primary focus of all of these articles, I think one can't help but ask the question: is this the best that Hawaii can do with the billion dollars that it has spent overhauling special education? The Center for Special Education Finance/Special Education Expenditure Project has done important work trying to pin down how much is spent on special education, but someone now has to take a look at what we're getting for that money.

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