HOUSTON — The percentage of special education students in Texas public schools has declined to the lowest of any state, and teachers and parents say they don’t know why.
Texas listed 8.8 percent of students as having special needs last year. That’s down from 12 percent in 2000. Houston reported 7.9 percent, and Dallas reported 7.7 percent, the Houston Chronicle reported. Even with a rising population, Texas reported about 103,000 fewer special education students.
The national figure has remained around 13 percent.
Jack Fletcher, a University of Houston professor on the executive committee of the Texas Center for Learning Disabilities, calls the trend “very encouraging.”
“I don’t think people fully understand why, but it does seem to coincide with the state and federal initiatives for beginning reading instruction,” Fletcher said. He also credited teachers for working harder to teach reading and limit the number of students who need special education.
Others are skeptical that schools have improved.
“They are doing an atrocious job of teaching kids to read,” said Houston special needs advocate Louis Geigerman.
Some worry that schools might be listing fewer students to keep costs down. One parent, Barbara Knighton, of Conroe, suggested that parents of special needs children are being forced to try private or home schooling.
“From being in the system, you hear the complaints. You hear the doors being locked and shut and closed,” said Knighton, founder of Parents Supporting Parents, a group for parents of children with disabilities. “The school district is not giving them what they need. They’re just sitting there in class. They’re bullied, they’re ignored.”
Gene Lenz, director of federal and state education policy for the Texas Education Agency, said the state may once have sent too many children into special education. Districts now “make sure that’s 100 percent true before they place a label on a child,” he said.
“While we’re proud of the work that’s happened here, we’re not naive,” Lenz said. “We’re always worried about whether everyone has access to special education services that needs it. But nothing seems more inappropriate to me than to place a child into special education when they don’t have a disability.”