According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Donovan Forde has “multiple disabilities.” He’s part of a fraction of a fraction of special education students served by the public school system. In this New York Times profile, Sharon Otterman explores Donovan’s experience as a student at P.S. 79 in New York City, a special education high school in East Harlem where the student-teacher ratio is 2:1. Hit by a car when he was just six months old, Donovan cannot walk, talk, or see. But at age 20, with one more year to go in the system, Donovan’s teachers, one-on-one aide, and mother are uncertain how much Donovan has gotten from his fifteen years in the public education system. Under federal law, Donovan is entitled to an “appropriate” education, but he has repeatedly failed to successfully demonstrate the goals laid out in his Individualized Education Plan. The problem is that educating students like Donovan cost three-to-four times more than their average peer; in NYC, that’s $58,877 per year, more than triple the citywide average per-pupil expenditure of $17,646. Donovan’s story is heart wrenching, but the question it raises deserves to be addressed: Could we educate this population of special education students at lower cost?

A Struggle to Educate the Severely Disabled,” by Sharon Otterman, New York Times, June 19, 2010

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