Percentage of learning disabled students aged 16-21 exiting special education in 2009-2010 who graduated with a diploma, according to Dropout Nation‘s analysis of U.S. Department of Education data — or a mere 256,000 American children. That’s lower than the nation’s overall four-year graduation rate of 70 percent.


The percentage of 16-to-21 year olds leaving special ed for regular education programs. While 31 percent of kids with speech impediments transferred into regular ed, a mere 6 percent of students labeled with either a specific learning disability, emotional disturbance, or hearing impairment, and just 2 percent of those labeled mentally retarded did so.


The percentage of 14- and 15-year-old special ed students exiting for regular education. While 67 percent of 14- and 15-year-olds with speech and language impediments transferred to regular ed, only 25 percent of kids labeled as having specific learning disabilities and an abysmal 13 percent of those labeled as being emotionally disturbed did so. And only 3 percent of 14 and 15 year olds with hearing impairments transferred into regular ed.


Percentage of 16-to-21 year olds labeled mentally retarded exiting special education with a high school diploma.


Percentage of students labeled with a speech or language impairment aged 16-to-21 leaving special ed with a diploma.


Percentage of 16-to-21 year olds labeled as having a specific learning disability who graduated with a diploma.


Percentage of 16-to-21 year olds with a hearing impairment leaving special ed with a high school diploma.


Percentage of 16-to-21 year olds labeled emotionally disturbed exiting special education with a high school diploma.


Special education is one of the academic ghettos of American public education — and one of the most pernicious. While the number of students relegated to special ed has declined slightly in recent years, the number of kids labeled increased by 63 percent between 1976 and 2006. And with boys making up two out of every three students in special ed, far too many of our sons — regardless of race, ethnicity, or class — are being diagnosed with learning disabilities when they really need intensive reading remediation and school environments in which they can thrive.

Thanks to abysmal reading instruction, the lack of strong reading interventions in the early grades, and the unwillingness of American public education to deal with kids who are either struggling or considered troublesome, far too many kids are sent to special ed. And thanks to the low expectations for these kids — including those who have real hearing and speech impairments who can succeed in regular environments — they get even lower quality instruction and curricula.  As the following numbers show, special education equals being condemned to academic failure. This form of educational neglect and malpractice must stop.