Special education fight in the City

By Jason Wojciechowski on August 7, 2003 at 5:14 AM

The New York Times has this article about Eva Moskowitz, the New York City Council's Education Committee chairwoman, saying that the reforms to special education as part of the educational system overhaul are too extreme.

The idea of the reforms is to put more of the emphasis in the schools, rather than at district offices, and that is no different on the special education side of things. Moskowitz says, however, that too few principals have enough special education experience to be fairly held so accountable for their programs. She also notes that, while in theory, the principals would have assistant principals that would focus on special education, the reality is that there is not enough money to do this.

Personally, I could go back and forth on this. I think it is important to let the people on the front lines make as many decisions as possible, and thus be held as accountable as possible. On the other hand, as Moskowitz says, those front line people often don't have the necessary training, and there isn't enough money to hire lots and lots of new administrators who all do have the training. I think I'm ever so slightly inclined to agree with Moskowitz in this case, that perhaps Joel Klein and Mike Bloomberg were a little hasty in their restructuring.

However, Moskowitz then said something I disagree with:

Ms. Moskowitz said that special needs students should be identified as early as possible. "I believe that we should be identifying children at the age of 3," she said. "We can't wait till the fourth-grade test to find out that children can't read."

While it's true that we can't wait until fourth grade to find out a kid can't read, to be testing and trying to identify kids at three years old seems premature. We have far too many diagnoses of ADD/ADHD and other disabilities as it is; I wouldn't want to see what would happen to the special education roll-call if we started adding kids to the list who tested into the program at three.

If nothing else, it smacks of tracking, which, while we do it in the United States, we don't do it as extremely as it's done in much of the rest of the world, where it's essentially decided what kind of job you'll be getting to work in, or even before, high school. I'd rather not push what tracking we do have even further down the line, deciding that this three year old can go to college in the future, while that one is going to have to be a typist at best.