Still Getting It Wrong: The Continuing Failure of Special Education in the Baltimore City Public Schools

February 2002 / Abell Reports / Education

Special education students are not coming close to achieving their academic potential.

In many respects, the Baltimore City Public School System has made great progress over the past several years. Yet its Special Education program, despite massive efforts for at least a decade and prolonged U.S. District Court supervision, is still squandering too much time, attention and money on excessive paperwork and bureaucracy at the expense of better instruction. Special Education students are not coming close to achieving their academic potential.

This report is based on more than 75 interviews of persons directly involved with BCPSS Special Education, on the review of thousands of pages of documents obtained mainly under the Maryland’s freedom of information law, and on surveys of national literature on Special Education. The report focuses on elementary school children with mild disabilities, especially in reading.

The best news is the extraordinary dedication and ability of many BCPSS special educators. They are unsung heroes. BCPSS has also made commendable gains, especially in achieving compliance with procedural requirements.

But progress in improving instruction has been far too slow. Special educators are not getting the support they deserve and BCPSS has inflated its accomplishments in improving Special Education.

Most importantly, there is widespread misunderstanding – even among the BCPSS New Board of School Commissioners and the judge in the federal District Court case, Vaughn G., et al. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, et al. (known as Vaughn G) – about how and why Special Education is falling short of its mission and potential.