Educating Everyone


Educating Everyone: Endless Battle [more]

Jennifer is an assistant special ed teacher in Harwich but despite being a part of the system she can’t find help for her own child.

Educating Everyone

The 10-part special report Educating Everyone: The Struggles and Costs of Special Education in Massachusetts airs weekdays beginning Monday, January 11 at 7:35am on 89.7 WGBH, Boston’s NPR Station for News and Culture. Each episode will be available for online listening the morning of broadcast.


10 families, 10 communities, 10 stories...

35 years it ago it began with the passing of a Federal law designed to meet the highest of expectations; to “mainstream” children with disabilities; to “educate everyone.” Today, the law is viewed as one of the biggest unfunded mandates in US history and a burden on every school district in the country.

Legacy of struggles...

Children with disabilities are confronted with obstacles as they struggle to learn to navigate the world the best they can. Parents struggle with the difficult task of understanding the law and their rights as they advocate for their children in the schools. School districts struggle with the high costs of special education students as the number of such students grow while resources remain severely limited.

Sky-rocketing costs, increased needs, shrinking budgets...

The 1975 federal law promised to chip in 40% of Special Ed costs. But in reality, that share has never reached higher than 18%. Meanwhile in Massachusetts, individual towns bear almost the full burden – with some students costing their districts over $100,000 to educate.

In 1975, ADHD was an unknown medical condition, dyslexia barely understood, autism a rare disease. In the past 20 years alone, autism cases have increased by 6000%.

As the recent recession deepened, tax revenues for towns have shrunk dramatically. Yet the law forbids any town from denying aid to disabled children based on cost.

This series is about these struggles and costs, but it’s also about both how our neighbors and fellow citizens treat each other and those with disabilities, how the law says we must, and what we believe is morally right in our quest to educate everyone.

Produced and edited by Steve Young
Reported by Sean Corcoran and Cathy Corman

Comments (12)

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Jeffrey 01.11
I was looking forward to this series and was disapointed to find out that you have decided to broadcast a negative experience that a parent had for your first report. Special Education is complicted and there are countless positive public school experiences that the vast majority of parents have. Too bad you choose to highlight one of the negative ones, especially for your first report. I just hope you dont go negative with the following reports as well. Jeff Rubin

Diana 01.11
@Jeffrey You must be an educator to believe that the vast majority of parents have "positive school experiences" with regard to special education. As a parent, and advocate of a child with special needs, I can personally attest that it has been a living hell dealing with the education system. I also know plenty of other parents of children with special needs who feel the same way. Any child and/or parent who has received decent care is in the minority, and this is why WGBH has dedicated its time to this series. As of today, my 6 year old daughter is receiving great care. While there is still room for improvement (as there is no such thing as perfection), I can accept that the people who educate her are caring, knowledgeable and are willing to work with me and each other. My duties as a parent and advocate is to not only help my child get what she needs, but to educate other parents. The key thing in the special needs educational world is that most (not all), but most SpED directors will bold face lie about services and assists. Why? The almighty dollar. Period. This series is based on reality with educating and supporting those suffering within the system. Bravo WGBH... keep up the good work. Only positive outcomes for our children will arise when the parents are educated to the facts of the corruption that exists. And once the corruption is brought to the surface, will one read of the happy outcomes. ~ Diana

Jolanta 01.11
Thank you for creating a series about this important topic. As a parent of a child with special needs my experience is quite different than the one previous poster (Jeff Rubin) implies I do know a few parents who had positive public school experiences and who did not have to fight tooth and nail for services for their children, but just a few. Majority of the three dozen or so parents with children with special needs or disabilities that I know have had an uphill battle, whichever district they live in. The problem is not always only the money, in a lot of cases its also lack of understand on the districts part on what these children need, especially when it comes to children on the autism spectrum, ADHD, or other neurological disorders.

maria 01.12
The Johnson family has had almost an identical early childhood experience that we had in another area of the Cape. Starting with the hair pulling and bald spot to the denial of integrated preschool to making my child a "peer model" as a back way into the preschool. It was like listening to our own story. Hes older now, but an attorney was needed to finally get him services. Now in middle school, the battle with the school never seems to end.

Tracy 01.13
I too was looking forward to seeing what this program would have to say in regards to special education, and I too am disapointed by the one sidedness of the stories thus far. How were the families profiled in these stories found? I find that the most vocal parents are the ones that have struggled with seeking services for their child. These families exist and their struggles are quite legitimate. They should be heard, but should not be the one point of view that is presented here (which has been the case thus far). Parents that have had positive experiences with special education are not likely to voluteer or come forward with their stories. I know first hand that most students, parents and families that I work with are happy with the services that their family member receives. I work with very talented special educators, very caring parents and some very disabled children. I hope that the next few episodes cover more topics within special education than profiling the experiences of a few parents. There are big picture issues within special education that it would be more productive to cover (inclusion, funding of services, research based teaching intreventions, transition of students with special needs to adult life services the list goes on). We should all be working and pulling together to find the most effective tools for teaching students with disabilities and finding the will in our society to fund the best possible practices in our schools and in the adult life service agencies.

Susan 01.17
Im enjoying this excellent series. I had many reactions when testing showed that my child required special supports in school, but that wasnt the hard part. The hard part was negotiating his path through the school system. My town has great schools and more than its share of outstanding special ed teachers, but I had to do a lot of sleuthing to identify his rights and options. Early childhood services were very good, but my son is now in high school and his 504 is proving worthless. As for this series, I particularly liked the early intervention piece. I hope you will address what weve experienced as the ineffectiveness of ed plans for older students, who in the high school in this town are expected to bootstrap themselves out of their learning differences.

Stephen 01.21
Thank you for producing this excellent piece! As a parent of a daughter who has a disability, hearing these stories is at once both validating and heart breaking. I look forward each morning to hearing the next episode. This is a story that needs to be told. Thank you for giving it a voice.

Michael 01.21
Just a terrific series and exactly why I listen to WGBH all the time. The whole series was very well done and really picks up on a lot of the day to day realities that glossier/surface level reports miss out on. The guy who did the reading, Sean, did a marvelous job. Keep it up!

Ted 01.22
This was a very well done piece on an important topic that hits close to home with us. Corcorans work was outstanding. Keep up the great programming!

Dean 01.22
Sean Corcoran and Cathy Corman have courageously exposed one of the true failings of the expansive growth of federal powers the use of unfunded mandates that cripple the finances of local municipalities and limit the ability of localities to craft the best solutions to the problems they face on the local level. As a conservative who fears for the rights of individuals at the state and local level at the hands of a expansionist Federal Government, I often find myself disagreeing with the content and tone of NPR pieces. However, this piece is so well made, and well reported, that its truths cannot be ignored. The longevity of our Republic depends in part on the continued existence of journalistic excellence such as this.

Lisa 01.30
Such a complex, challenging topic. Im always contemplating how challenging it is to talk about regular education, or education in general. Talking about special education ratchets up the complexity to another level. I thought Cathy did an excellent job, again, showing different perspectives on the "inclusion question" and conveying the complexities without getting lost in a lot of jargon and educationese. I confess I find the turnip explanation a little simplistic because I know simply including kids with complicated profiles and needs will fail without the appropriate supports, so it was good to include the other familys story and the voice of Mr. Gass. Rick Lavoie uses the term "responsible inclusion" as distinct from "total inclusion" (see excerpt from Q A below defining the term). It seems like a very thoughtful, well done series. I look forward to listening to the other segments. Heres Rick Lavoie on "responsible inclusion" The differences between Responsible Inclusion and Total Inclusion are significant. Unlike Total Inclusion, a Responsible Inclusion program meets the following criteria a. The program is STUDENTCENTERED Ongoing assessment and monitoring ensures that the students program meets his individual social and academic needs. Placement in inclusive classrooms is recommended or continued ONLY if the child is experiencing success in that setting. If evaluations indicate that the child is not learning in the regular classroom, alternative placements are made. b. Participation of regular educators is VOLUNTARY. Teachers are not mandated to participate. This is a controversial aspect of Responsible Inclusion but it is fundamental to the programs success. Many regular education teachers do not feel that they have the knowledge, skills or temperament to deal effectively with special needs kids. Other teachers are eager and willing to work with these students and pursue the training that they need to be more effective. c. Adequate RESOURCES are provided. The Responsible Inclusion model requires all members of the school community to recognize that additional resources (time, energy, money, personnel) are required to ensure the programs success. Decisionmakers must recognize that Inclusion is not designed to "save money". d. The Responsible Inclusion program is TAILORED to meet the needs and uniqueness of the school community. One size does NOT fit all. Each Responsible Inclusion program is designed mindful of the fact that each school has its own "culture" and the Responsible Inclusion program must be responsive to it. e. A CONTINUUM OF SERVICES is maintained wherein students with varying needs will have access to program formats that meet their unique needs (including pullouts, consultation, collaboration and coteaching). f. THE SERVICE DELIVERY model is constantly evaluated. The model is adjusted often in order to respond to the needs and growth of the individual. If a format is not working, the MODEL (not the TEACHER or the STUDENT) is blamed. g. Ongoing PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT is provided. Management guru, Tom Peters, once said, "There are three solutions to most institutional problems Training, Training and Training". In Responsible Inclusion, key personnel receive ongoing, innovative training in methods and materials. On site training is promoted and offsite development is encouraged. h. Inclusion is viewed as an OPPORTUNITY to improve instruction for ALL students. When a school truly embraces the concept of Responsible Inclusion, instructional practices for ALL kids naturally improve. Teachers do not view Inclusion as Intrusion. Responsible Inclusion has been successful in schools nationwide and it has improved the lot of thousands of special learners. I once had an argument with a rabid Total Inclusionist. She growled, "I hate the term Responsible Inclusion. It implies that people with my belief are IRresponsible."

Maria 03.12
I missed the series as I was busy dealing with school issues of my 18 years old son with autism. With new teacher with as principal called it "different philosophy", with reduced support (from three teachers aids to one) with my son return to full hours (instead of five) suddenly this boy, who did so well in previous three years and who went with me on three week long car trip to California and back is showing terrible self injurious behaviors. He pushes the teacher whenever she takes from him pencil or worksheets he has been working on. I have long ago resigned myself to the fact that there are really no place which would offer even 50 percent of what he needs. I taught him myself more than any teacher he had, although I learned a few things from some of them. I am not proud of that, because I would rather have teachers who know more, who teach him better and more than I am able. I set this year for much less just no regression at school but even that didnt happen. He regressed terribly but, so far , only at school. At home he still studies with me between hour and two hours (just to maintain what I taught him before). When I point to school that this leads to either my son causing serious damage to his body or being taken away by police and that we need to take him out of this place and that wouldnt even cost town more money they dont want to agree. I am terrified of his situation in this classroom specially in contrast to his functioning at home and in other places. I worked very hard to make him better. Everything is destroyed. I would not mind to teach him for a time until new placement is found. The matter of fact is, he really doesnt learn anything at school this year. Yet request for home schooling until right placement is found seem to irritate the sped director more than anything else. It irritates everybody, because it shows how bad overall is my sons special education and even more how much you can do when you work intensively with a child, analyze his errors, develop new approaches, notice those tiny things that interfere with learning which nobody else seem to know about. It would be so much better I think if the state opened a few charter schools for children with special needs. If the Program Quality Assurance investigated any complain about school neglecting seriously some of its children, just like some agency investigate parental neglect. If the PQA was doing its job one child at a time. Or if it was a county which was responsible for special education. HOw many special education directors would have to go. how large saving...I wish I was still furious. I am depressed by the cruelty of this sick system.