Wednesday, August 14, 2013


By Tom Chorneau, SI&A Cabinet Report – News & Resources

Thursday, August 15, 2013  ::  With the cost of special education soaring in California even as academic outcomes fall short of national averages, key members of the Brown administration are organizing plans to overhaul how instructional services are delivered to students with disabilities.

Architects of the proposal – who include representatives of the state board of education, the California Department of Education, Commission on Teacher Credentialing and the Legislature – have set January, 2015 as the deadline for a task force to deliver policy alternatives aimed at making the system more effective and cost efficient.

Led by Linda Darling-Hammond, a nationally-recognized education professor from Stanford and chair of the CTC, the group has solicited foundation seed money to hire an executive director and partnered with the San Mateo County Office of Education to provide administrative support.

Darling-Hammond, said in an interview that the crisis has been building for some time, caused, at least in part, by a decision in the late 1990s to relax requirements to deal with a teaching shortage.

“In order to deal with the shortage, the CTC reduced the training – eliminating the requirement that teachers have a basic teaching credential before they learn to teach special education,” she explained. “So many of our special education teachers are not qualified to teach regular education, nor do they have a deep grounding in teaching itself.”

The division between special education teachers and their counter-parts in the regular classroom means California schools cannot take advantage as easily of such innovations as ‘inclusionary classes’ and ‘Response to Intervention’ that are aimed at serving struggling students in the less expensive, more accommodating mainstream setting.

Hammond also noted that parents often make demands on districts for additional services – such as one-on-one aides – after they discover their child isn’t being well taught.

She said trying to address the problem as only a credentialing issue would be like “one hand clapping.” The solution needs a far broader approach.

“If all we did was reinstate the general education requirement, we would cause another shortage,” she said. “So we need to work with all agencies on the service delivery model, on the training and recruitment model as well as the support model. We really need to re-conceptualize the way we are doing this work in the state.”

California schools serve about 690,000 students with disabilities – about 10 percent of total enrollment and up from 612,000 only 10 years ago. Including federal, state and local contributions, the state’s special education costs totaled about $8.6 billion in 2010-11, according to the non-partisan Legislative Analyst.

According to a 2012 report from the American Institutes for Research, California had one of the lowest identification rates of students with disabilities in the nation in 2009-12 at 6.7 percent– well below the national average of 7.9 percent.

Meanwhile, the state’s students with disabilities ranked 48th in the nation based on 2011 math and reading assessments.

So far the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation has committed $200,000 to support the special education task force but Hammond said there are several other private donors who have also indicated an interest.

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