Follow the special ed money

Jay Greene is dubious about Response To Intervention — trying to educate children well so they’re not diagnosed as learning disabled — because he thinks schools have an incentive to put kids in special ed.

Essentially, RTI frees-up money to get schools to do what they presumably should have been doing already — providing well-designed instruction in the early grades. Unless we think that the main impediment to well-designed instruction was that schools lacked the funding to do it, diverting 15% of special education money to early-grade instruction will not get them to do anything significantly different from what they were already doing.

Schools say that special ed costs them money, but Greene argues that’s usually not true — unless they were planning to do nothing extra for low achievers who aren’t considered disabled.

“Some pretty solid research . . . says that early identification and prevention programs (esp. in reading) are better for kids who later end up getting labeled LD (learning disabled) than are years and years of SPED services,” writes Amber Winkler on Flypaper.

Update: Greene has more on special education here.

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  1. Cardinal Fang says:

    Jay Greene is dubious about Response To Intervention — trying to educate children well so they’re not diagnosed as learning disabled

    As I read it, he is completely in favor of trying to educate children well so they’re not later misdiagnosed as learning disabled. Instead what he opposes is diverting some special ed funds away from special ed students and toward improving education for all students in the early grades. He argues that in any case, schools ought to be using the best practices in the early grades, and to the extent they’re not, it’s not because of lack of funding.

  2. Greene can argue all he likes, but the substantially lower class sizes in special ed. means it does indeed cost more money.

  3. NYC Educator assumes that all special ed students are in self-contained classrooms. In fact, 82% of disabled students spend at least 40% of their time in a regular classroom and 52% spend at least 80% of their time in a regular classroom. (See )

    So, most special education students receive pull-out instruction for a small portion of the day. This is essentially the same thing schools often do for students who are behind academically but not identified as disabled — provide pull-out small group instruction to help them catch up. The financial benefit of doing that after identifying a student as disabled is that the school receives a subsidy for the expense they already were going to spend.

    I not only argue, I also provide facts. NYC Educator should do the same when making an argument.

  4. Isn’t this kind of old news?

    I remember reading about kids getting stuffed into special ed programs for the budget manna at least ten years ago.

    I suppose these sorts of abuses bear repetition since they remind the public that the public education system is staffed with human beings who are quite capable of acting in their own interest regardless of the consequences to others.

  5. Margo/Mom says:

    It always seems to me that the extra $ spent on lower class sizes resulted in nothing better than an even-up trade-off. Smaller class size with a broader span of grade levels and wider diversity of learning styles and more need results in more worksheets and time filling exercises and a watered down curriculum. I have seen the skills of some very talented special education teachers squandered in this way. In other cases it provides cover for gaps in a teacher’s academic background (there’s just no time to teach science!)

    If moving that 15% of special ed money into pre-identification services delivered to kids who may or may not later be identified results in those services actually being delivered, I say go for it.

  6. Mr. Greene,

    I apologize if I was mistaken. I was indeed thinking only of the special ed. kids who are in the special ed. wing, and you’re absolutely right that many more are either in resource room or receiving far more limited services. My mistake.

    Given your statistics, though, it still appears much more expensive to educate them.

  7. Let me add, though, that I’m by no means against spending money on services for kids who need them, and now having read your original article, I agree completely that the RTI proposal doesn’t sound very promising.

  8. NYC Educator — I appreciate your apology and I apologize for being overly harsh. I’m relatively new at blogging and I now see how easy it is to go into over-drive too fast. Please accept my apology.

    I’m sure that we will agree at times and disagree at other times. I’m glad that this is an area where we are more in agreement than I had thought. Even when we disagree, I’ll strive to stick to the substantive issue.

  9. I am a conservative-minded public school teacher. I’d like to point out a couple things wrong with the bounty theory:

    1) The percentage of students identified has leveled off in the 2000s.

    2) I have a better theory. The increase in the 1980s and 90s came mostly in the category of learning disabled. These learning disabilities were “diagnosed” based on test scores. A low score on a reading test meant there was a “reading disability.”

    There was never any proof that these “disabilities” were organically based. I submit that they were the result of early grade teachers doing a poor job of teaching reading. The increase that Forster and Greene describe lagged just behind the whole-language fad that swept across the country. As phonics have regained favor, the number of learning disabled students has stabilized. The special education industry, however, is not likely to dismantle the empire it has built any time soon.


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