A recent audit of special education in Lincoln Public Schools (Nebraska) indicates that students in these programs need much more time to master the core subjects (reading, writing, arithmetic, et al). That much is probably obvious but, more importantly, the study also suggests that these programs need teachers who are more specialized in these fields.
“The gift of time is a key component of raising the achievement of struggling students,” explains consultant Nate Levenson, noting that this is not something consistently occurring within Lincoln Public Schools. Instead, he argues, special education teachers who do not have such expertise often teach more in small groups during a traditional class period.
Levenson is the president of District Management Council, which is the Boston-based company hired by LPS to perform this audit. He goes on to say, “The person who helps them, their skill and training matter a lot.”
He also adds, “The single biggest variable of how much students learn is not the wisdom of your superintendent, the consultant you hired or the curriculum you build. It’s the teacher.” After all, the district’s special education department spent more than $60 million last year alone to serve more than 6,000 students, all of whom had been classified with any of a wide range of learning disabilities.
And now, of course, administrators say they are looking for ways they can improve. In terms of improvement, then, the district hopes to develop a model for all schools to use for better assignment of resources for special education.
“Now the things we are going to need to do is dig a little bit deeper, rethink some of our processes, look for ways to be more efficient and more effective, and better deliver our services to some of our neediest children,” explains Don Mayhew, who is the president of the Lincoln Public School District Board of Directors.
But while this audit may have exposed what many might consider a glaring need, the audit could have also brought to light a few positive traits. For one, it appears LPS has a consistent commitment to inclusion. Furthermore, the district also finds a way to serve nearly every student in need who lives within the district. Also, schools are quite well-staffed to assist with those students who struggle the most. Finally, the district’s special education leadership is among the most passionate and highly invested anywhere.