3. “Struggling Students”

The low performance at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island provides another window onto the plight of “struggling students.” Under No Child Left Behind, nearly every teacher and administrator at Central High will be terminated at the end of the year because the school has had dismal performance for many years. (The MetroWest Daily News, Feb 28, 2010). It is difficult to improve academic performance in some schools where there is an “institutional culture that perpetuates failure.”

A closer look at Central Falls is the fact that there are many immigrant and black pupils enrolled there, and the community is diverse demographically. Some 50% of pupils do not graduate from high school, and violent gangs are present. This implicates special education. At Central Falls, some…”22% were identified with Limited English proficiency with English as their second language compared to 3% for the state. Twenty-three percent had an IEP (individualized education plan designed for students with special needs) compared to the state average of 17% and 85% were classified as economically disadvantaged compared to the state average of 35%.” With a 6% higher rate than state special education figures, one infers that non-disabled children are being placed in special education, a serious over-identification problem. And special education is one wrong place to send non-English speaking children. More pupils need to be dismissed from special education immediately.

“Such changes [firings] are traumatic for a school community, but officials cannot let short-term pain preclude long-term improvement. In places like Central Falls, the “achievement gap” between white and minority students isn’t a public policy concept; it is what robs the future of hundreds of young people every year” (Metro-West).

According to reports, special education teachers, a reading specialist, social worker, speech pathologist, nurse and school psychologist were let go. It is important for special education departments to do their share in minimizing misidentification of “struggling students” and to provide leadership as required. Special education should not be a remedial service to help “struggling students.”

“…students who are placed in special education have a higher likelihood of obtaining a certificate instead of a diploma. They also experience lower levels of achievement, high drop-out rates, low wages, increased teenage pregnancy, and social isolation” (Emstac).

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