After months of waiting to hear the results of a pilot program for the city’s special education reforms, many advocates hoped they would finally get some answers today at a City Council hearing. But when Department of Education officials sat down to testify, there were few revelations.
It’s not that the DOE was witholding any new information. It was just that no such data yet existed, said Laura Rodriguez, the outgoing Deputy Chancellor of Special Education.
Rodriquez said they had so far collected data for only a couple of measures – such as attendance and the rate of movement of students with special needs into general education settings – and that they hadn’t focused on other key metrics. Advocates say that other important measures of success include suspension rates and parent surveys.
The reforms will increase the number of special education students who attend district schools, and their inclusion in general education classrooms. The DOE initially planned to implement the reforms for the 2011-2012 year, but delayed them last year, in part to look at results from the pilot.
Robert Jackson, the chair of the education committee, began the hearing with concerns about the limits of the data that the department had so far offered about the programs. He said that attendance, which did not improve, and higher rates of general education inclusion, were not helpful for evaluating whether the reforms were working.
Rodriguez, who will be replaced by Corinne Rello-Anselmi next month, said the department plans to look at data about the number of suspensions for the current school year. She said they will also develop parental surveys that will determine levels of parental with the reforms.
The city is currently in the second year of a two-year pilot taking place in 260 schools. Many special education advocacy groups support the principles that are guiding the reforms – mainly, that students with special needs thrive in general education settings. But nearly two years since the pilot started, many are unsatisfied with the amount of data gained from it. Teachers union officials have aired concerns that the reforms, which reward schools with funding for moving students into less restrictive environments, could lead to abuse.
Officials from several parent groups and five city council members spoke at a rally before the hearing.
“Show us the data, or we’ll see you in court,” said Mona Davids, of the New York City Parents Union.
United Federation of Teachers vice president Carmen Alvarez called for the reforms to be slowed down in her testimony. She said she believed the 260 schools participating in the first phase of the reforms – the pilot – deserved greater scrutiny before it is fully implemented.
“We need to investigate,” she said. ”We have to really continue to look at Phase 1. Don’t forget them. See what more can we learn.”