A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

To Assure the Free Appropriate Public Education of All Children with Disabilities - 1996

Chapter 4

Meeting the Needs of Students with Disabilities in the Inner Cities

Anecdotal information suggests that special education programs in inner cities face unique challenges, and differ from nationally representative data on special education students, personnel, and services. Despite a keen interest in exploring issues of inner city needs and services, due to the scarcity of data, OSEP must rely on information collected by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the National Longitudinal Transition Study of Special Education Students (NLTS), and secondary data sources. This chapter synthesizes information from a variety of those sources to provide a profile of special education in the nation's inner cities. The chapter addresses the following specific questions.

Special education takes place within a community, a school district, and a school building. It is nested within a broader educational environment, and this educational environment naturally affects the need for special education services and the ability of the system to meet those needs. An example of the conditions in New York City illustrates some of the many challenges faced by inner city schools.

In New York City, poor and minority children are increasing as a percentage of total student growth. The social welfare index for children continues to decline; children are currently about 42 percent worse off than they were in 1974, and their welfare is likely to get even worse in the next five years. Unemployment, poverty, and child abuse are reaching epidemic proportions in New York City....[D]iseases, like AIDS and drug abuse, whose rapid growth are associated with poverty, are increasing at an explosive rate. It is reasonable to conclude that a growing percentage of the educational budget will be needed to service the increasing number of at-risk students. Trend discrepancies in incidence rates of at-risk students and the funding allocated for services indicate that the New York City school system will most likely be unable to provide the necessary services for students in need (Richards, 1992).

Similar trends have been documented in smaller cities, such as Denver, Colorado. In recent years, Denver has seen an increase in infant mortality, youth unemployment, and deaths due to child abuse. In one area, almost half the households live at or below the poverty level, compared to 16 percent of all households in the State. The city's schools serve students from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds, who may speak one of 89 different languages. Finally, several Denver schools report student turnover of 75 percent in a given academic year (Kozleski et al., 1993). All these factors are common to inner cities and affect the needs of students with disabilities and the ability of schools to meet those needs.

This chapter consists of the three sections summarized below.

In this chapter, the terms inner city and urban are used differently, with the latter term being more general and including urban fringe areas. Footnotes are used throughout the chapter to inform the reader of the definitional issues specific to various data sets.

[Chapter 3 Summary and Implications] [Table of Contents] [Number and Characteristics of Students with Disabilities in Inner-City Districts]