New York Schools Succeed With Master’s-Prepared Special Educators at the Helm
The New York State Public School system is massive, encompassing 728 different districts, from the inner city to the upstate wilderness, serving more than 2.7 million students from different backgrounds and with many different needs. Sixteen percent of those students fall into special needs categories (including Asperger’s and other autism spectrum disorders), well above the national average of around 13 percent.
It’s no surprise, then, that New York special education programs have been on the federal Department of Education’s “Needs Assistance” roster for more than two years in a row. But that status represents a marked improvement from the 2011 status when it was determined that the state’s schools were among those categorized under the much more urgent “Needs Intervention” classification.
A combination of federal grant money, state and district-level reform, and a lot of hard work by master’s-educated special education teachers around the state have helped close the achievement gap between special needs and general population students.
Special Education Reform Finds Success in the State’s Largest District
The New York City Public School District is the largest in the state and provides one good example of the improvements that have been made in recent years. The Division of Specialized Instruction and Student Support has worked since 2011 to create the necessary specialized tools and to foster professional development for instructors in special education programs. Their initiative, titled “A Shared Path to Success,” gives special education students as much access as possible to the same classroom environment as their peer group.
A 2012 study praised the city’s Department of Education for preparing for the reforms, despite funding issues and no specialized teacher training programs.
As the system has adopted Common Core standards for all students, the expectations for how special education students should be performing has also increased. Although this places even more pressure on educators, master’s-prepared instructors have been able to keep pace with the demand for more effective classroom instruction.
One sterling example of their success is recent Staten Island graduate Maggie Timoney. Diagnosed when she was 5 with ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome, and a disorder that caused unpredictable seizures, Maggie was called out of her kindergarten class for disruptive behavior.
But the district’s Committee on Special Education was able to set her up with an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that incorporated a behavioral plan, occupational and speech therapy, and assistive technology as necessary to help her focus. An integrated co-teaching (ICT) classroom allowed her to attend class with her general education peers, avoiding stigmatization and a reduction in educational standards.
After joining a special Transitional Asperger’s Program (TAP) in high school, Maggie was able to advance to her senior year with her cohort and was on track to attend college and realize her dreams to become an artist and fashion designer… all thanks to dedicated, master’s-educated teachers who helped support her in her progress throughout her school career.