Hartford's System Of Special Education Termed 'Dysfunctional'
February 09, 2009
Hartford school officials often talk about the achievement gap between their students and the rest of the state's. But officials on the district's special education task force last week told parents and school board members that Hartford has an achievement gap of its own.
It's between special-education and non-special-education students, said David MacDonald, the chairman of the panel, which was formed in April 2008. And it happens despite about $78 million in funds a year for special education programs.
The panel presented recommendations to the school board on how to fix the special education system, which MacDonald said has been "dysfunctional." To make improvements, parents need to be more involved, money needs to be better allocated and teachers need to have the required training in special education, the panel said.
Parental involvement was a main theme because several parents had complained they had been left out of decisions about their children, in many cases because of a language barrier.
The panel recommended training for parents on the rights of special education students and more information in their native languages. The panel also recommended that parents be given documents before parent-teacher meetings so they can make informed decisions.
The district's goal is to increase Connecticut Mastery Test scores of special education students by 21 points during the next three years. Officials want to improve the graduation rate of special education students by 12 percentage points and increase the number of special education students who attend college programs by 5 percentage points.
"The district has bitten off some rigorous goals and objectives for special education students," said Patricia Staszko, senior director for pupil support services for the Hartford schools. "If they are going to catch up, we need to catch them up faster."
The panel's presentation brought up other details about special education students in the district: About 60 percent are male. And Hartford magnet schools tend to have far fewer special education students than the Hartford public schools.
Milly Arcienegas, president of the PTO presidents council, said the panel is earning back trust from parents.
"If we can tackle this, and if we can implement this plan, we are just one step closer to closing the achievement gap," Arcienegas said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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