Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer


The percentage of Cleveland students labeled as learning disabled under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This is five percentage points higher than the 13 percent national average.


The percentage of Solon students labeled as special ed cases, three points lower than the national average.


The percentage of white students in Cleveland labeled as special ed cases, the highest percentage among all students regardless of race or ethnicity. Nineteen percent of black students, 18 percent of Latino students, 14 percent of American Indian students, and five percent of Asian students were placed by the Cleveland district on proverbial short buses.

Two to one

The ratio of young men to young women warehoused in Cleveland’s special ed programs. Young men make up 66 percent of the city’s special ed population, just a point lower than the national average.


The percentage of young men who make up Solon’s special ed population, three points higher than the national average. Young men outnumber young women by a three-to-one ratio.


The percentage of young white men in Cleveland labeled as special ed cases under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the highest percentage of men of any racial or ethnic group considered learning disabled. Just six percent of their white female peers are considered special ed cases. Meanwhile 24 percent of young black men, 23 percent of young Latino and American Indian men, and six percent of young Asian men are labeled special ed cases. Only 13 percent of Latino women, 12 percent of young black women, six percent of American Indian women, and no Asian women are labeled learning disabled.


The percentage of young Latino men attending Solon schools labeled learning disabled, the highest percentage among all young men regardless of race in the district. None of their female peers were labeled as special ed cases. Nineteen-point-seven percent of young black men in Solon, along with 14 percent of young white men, were labeled learning disabled; while only 11 percent of young black women and six percent of young white women were considered special ed cases. Among Asians, four percent of young men and three percent of their young women peers were labeled learning disabled.


Percentage of Cleveland special ed students labeled with a specific learning disability. More students are placed into this vague catch-all category than in any other. Twenty percent of students are labeled as having being mentally retarded or having some other form of “intellectual disability” while another 12 percent are considered emotionally disturbed.


Percentage of Solon special ed students labeled as having a specific learning disability, the largest learning disability category. Seven percent of students are considered emotionally disturbed, while another six percent each  are considered having some form of intellectual disability or having “multiple disabilities”; few students nationally are diagnosed as being in the latter condition.


The percentage of Cleveland special ed students who spend less than 40 percent of their school day outside of regular classrooms. Twenty-four percent of special ed students labeled with a “specific learning disability” spend less than 40 percent of their day in regular classroom settings.


The percentage of Solon special ed students who spend less than 40 percent of their school day outside of regular classrooms. Every student with a specific learning disability, for example, spends more than 40 percent of the school day away from regular classroom activities.


One wouldn’t think that the notoriously dysfunctional Cleveland school district and its tony suburban counterpart in nearby Solon would have all that much in common. After all, the former, one of the worst-performing districts in the Midwest (and nation) after Detroit, may end up going through another overhaul being launched by the city’s mayor, Frank Jackson, while Solon was ranked as by NPR StateImpact as one of the Buckeye State’s “Deluxe Suburban” traditional operations. Yet when it comes to special education, both Cleveland and Solon put plenty of kids — especially young men — on proverbial short buses. More importantly, few of the kids labeled as special ed, especially young black men, have the kind of real cognitive and physical disabilities that would warrant such labeling in the first place. (And even those kids, especially kids with low incidence disabilities such as blindness, deserve a high-quality education.) One would dare say if both districts engaged in intensive early reading remediation, improved the quality of reading instruction and curricula, and used response to intervention techniques, there would be fewer students labeled special ed cases. Just 61 percent of districts use response to intervention techniques in one form or another, according to Education Week.

Cleveland and Solon aren’t alone. Thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act and the efforts of President George W. Bush on improving literacy and keeping more students out of special ed, the percentage of America’s students labeled as learning disabled has declined slightly in the past few years. Still 13 percent of all students are still placed into special education ghettos that all but assure that they have slim chances of graduating high school, completing college, and participating productively in the nation’s economy and society. It is time to stop warehousing kids we deem incapable of learning — and clear out one of the ghettos of American public education.