The California Department of Education is currently developing a unified system that aims to improve achievement for students with a variety of learning disabilities, as well as “high-needs” students, or those from low income families, English language learners and foster children. After an ordinance was passed down from the federal government and state, plans were created to bring special education into every school district initiative designed to improve achievement.
Special Education has not clearly been recognized as an area of focus in California’s school finance system in the past, mostly due to the complex federal mandates and funding streams. Consequently, most special education programs in California generally operate outside of everyday school administration. Unfortunately, the current achievement gap between high needs students and their regular instruction peers shows that the current system needs this ambitious structural overhaul.
A new level of collaboration between special education tutors and teachers, administrators and parents will be required as districts create and refine Local Control and Accountability Plans. These plans are intended to track district efforts to improve achievement for special needs students.
When speaking on the new accountability measures, Matt Navo, superintendent of Sanger Unified School District and member of the state Advisory Commission on Special Education stated: “You are going to have to talk about what you are doing for all kids, and then explain why or why not subgroups of students, including special education, have access to programs.”
In 2013, the Statewide Special Education Task Force was created to study special education academic services and recommend policy and procedure changes. Their extensive report states that although one out of 11 students in the state require special education services, California achievement levels of students with disabilities are among the lowest in all 50 states.
The Statewide Task Force on Special Education is calling for a greater integration of special education into the state’s education system, including extensive training for teachers and special needs tutors, more strategic uses of evidence-based practices and the tracking of its corresponding data.
Among the task force’s recommendations are a “common trunk” of curricula for teachers, equal funding for special education students throughout the state, and the state taking over costs currently paid by districts for preschool aged children with significant disabilities. Also proposed in the report is adding new or remodeled school facilities that place special education classrooms in closer proximity to other classrooms, allowing peers to mingle and encouraging a seamless campus community for teachers and students.
The report states that the proposed early intervention programs would save “billions of dollars” in future costs. Shorter term savings would come from reducing the number of segregated special education classrooms, which require separate teachers and student transportation services. Yet obstacles to aligning these accountability systems remain, as much remains unclear about where the funding will come from for many proposals recommended by the task force.
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