The Most Left Behind of All
The Most ‘Left Behind’ of All: The plight of special-needs children in Covington Independent Public Schools By Richard G. Innes
This Bluegrass Institute Report on the conditions of learning disabled students in the Covington Independent School System was originally published in HTML format only in 2007 in the old Bluegrass Institute Web site. It became unavailable on the Web when that old site was hacked and had to be shut down.
An investigation by the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) in 2006 yielded some stunning conclusions about the plight of special-needs students in the Covington Independent Public Schools district in Northern Kentucky. It left little doubt that a culture exists within the school district that creates an unsupportive, if not openly hostile and even frightening, environment for students with learning disabilities (SD).
“Interviews and observations across the district reveal the perception that special education, as a program is not valued in the district,” concluded the KDE’s report, based on the inquiry conducted from Feb. 27 to March 3, 2006.1 The KDE’s team also reported it found no evidence that “culture and climate issues (related to special education) are consistently being address (sic) by the district.”
To ensure the charges reported in the KDE’s audit were accurate and not simply uncovering temporary problems sometimes found in such snapshot visits, the Bluegrass Institute examined the report alongside an earlier evaluation conducted by the state’s Office of Education Accountability (OEA) and data from other documentation.
Our simultaneous examination of the KDE and OEA reports offered compelling evidence of a set of trends indicating Covington schools’ SD have been very poorly served for at least the past five years. What the evidence shows:
- • SD are not being taught by experienced and well-trained professionals due, in large part, to excessive turnover of special-education teachers.
- • Committees admitting students into Covington schools’ special-education program are unfamiliar with the rules, commit significant documentation errors and have questionable histories of dealing with parents.
- • Noncompliance with laws protecting special-needs children.
Additional evidence contained in the state’s recent No Child Left Behind (NCLB) reports indicates Covington is not unique in its ineffective handling of SD education. Kentucky’s 2006 NCLB report demonstrates that a multitude of Kentucky school districts failed to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) under NCLB during the 2005-06 school term with the overwhelming cause being the poor performance of their SD.
A November 2005 report by the Bluegrass Institute, which documents the state’s deplorable NCLB coverage for SD, demonstrates how the KDE uses every available loophole to keep school districts from being held accountable for these special students. As a result of these loopholes, 75 of the state’s 176 school districts did not report any SD reading test scores in 2006. Due to its very large enrollment of SD, Covington could not use the state’s NCLB loopholes and did report scores for this group. However, a culture of educational neglect of our state’s neediest children extends beyond the borders of the Covington district.
So why do Frankfort’s education bureaucrats seem content just to write reports? Problems in Covington have continued for at least half a decade, so urgent action is needed to protect children and end the trend of SD being left far, far behind. Lawmakers are morally bound to help the parents of Kentucky’s special-needs students to find better alternatives for their children.
If this report only addressed the problems of Covington’s SD, it would be no more effective than those treatises already published. As a result, we offer several promising options, including differentiated teacher pay and scholarships for SD students.
For too long, Kentucky’s learning-disabled children and their parents have faced environments ranging from indifferent to clearly hostile in our state’s public-education system. Some education officials would prefer to lock the problem away in a closet rather than come to grips with the challenges of meeting SD children’s educational needs. The ideas for addressing these challenges contained in this report are intended to help policymakers and education officials confront this dire situation and change a culture that offers the parents of Kentucky’s SD almost no options for helping their children.
The report was saved in Word format before the old Bluegrass Institute Web Site was hacked and is now available here.