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Low Income Students More Likely To Be Placed In Special-Ed Programs

A Lowell public school bus passes the Immaculate Conception School in Lowell, Mass. in April, 2009. (AP)

A Lowell public school bus passes the Immaculate Conception School in Lowell, Mass. in April, 2009. (AP)

A new study on the state of special education in Massachusetts will be presented tonight at a Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting.

The findings are expected to provoke serious discussion about the use of special education, especially in the case of low-income districts.

In this first-of-a-kind study commissioned by the state, researchers found that low-income school districts are more likely to place students in special ed programs for mild and sometimes “questionable” disabilities.

The numbers are astonishing: more than 163,000, or 17 percent, of Massachusetts students are enrolled in special education– the second highest rate in the nation just behind Rhode Island.


  • Jerry Mogul, Executive Director of Massachusetts Advocates for Children

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  • http://twitter.com/LilPecan Pecan

    I was placed in remedial math and English classes as a child. I never had a learning disability but I assume I was placed in these classes because my family was poor. I received high grades and was eventually able to move out of these classes into mainstream curriculum but it left me playing catch up with my peers. For example I was taking geometry when my peers had already moved onto trigonometry.   I believe as a result the quality of my education was diminished (I was not challenged) all because my family was poor.

  • Ellen Chambers

    I urge WBUR to investigate and report on the REAL issue:  why are so many students in special education programs FAILING, even though they have no cognitive impairments and are as intellectually capable as their non-disabled peers? 

    According to the MA Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education:

    1. 90-95% of students in special education programs DO NOT HAVE COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENTS. They have disabilities that affect the WAY they learn, not their capacity to learn.

    2. Given the above, the MCAS performance of students with and without disabilities ought to be substantially similar. It is not. Statewide, on the 2011 ELA MCAS exam, 78 pct of students without disabilities scored proficient or better. Only 30 pct of students with disabilities did so. The figures for Math were 67 and 21 pct, respectively. The achievement gap between students with and without disabilities is staggering, and has grown WIDER every year since MCAS testing began.

    3. MA spends approx. $2.1 billion on special education every year.

    The REAL issue is: where is that $2.1 billion going? Clearly it is not going into effective teaching for students with disabilities.

    The media outlet that decides to investigate this issue will have quite a story, indeed! 

    Ellen M. Chambers, MBA
    Special Education Rights & Process
    (978) 433-5983

  • Bostonnewswire

    I taught in Boston for four years. I also worked in policy. Like it or not, it must be explored that the reason more low-income students end up in special ed has a lot to do with their parents urging. A single mother on welfare gets a significant increase in benefit pay when a child (or more) are in special ed.

    I was disturbed that this wasn’t mentioned in any of the reports that I’ve heard/read on this study. If it wasn’t explored, even if to be discounted, then the study is fatally flawed.

    Talk to the teachers in these programs, look at the test scores and the IEP’s and the evidence becomes glaring.  The story here is that a higher number of  low-income parents are abusing their children by demanding they be placed in special ed so that their welfare benefits will be increased. It hurts the children, it hurts educators (because if it’s the parents demand, teachers are hamstrung) and it hurts taxpayers.

    This study should have looked at this and if it didn’t, then the reporters should have asked why – which interviews with any small sample of special ed teachers would’ve revealed as important to the issue.

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