Fordham: Spend smarter on special ed

Spending more on special ed simply may not do much for kids,” writes Checker Finn on Gadfly, citing Boosting the Quality and Efficiency of Special Education, a new Fordham report by Nate Levenson. By emulating the staffing levels and practices of efficient districts, the high-spending districts could save $10 billion — and improve quality, according to the report.

Special Education

Special education has been “downright hostile” to “innovation, efficiency, or productivity boosters, writes Finn. It “remains fixated on inputs, ratios, and services,” rather than student outcomes.

. . .  the same basic dysfunctions that ail general education afflict special education too: middling (or worse) teacher quality; an inclination to throw “more people” at any problem; a reluctance to look at cost-effectiveness; a crazy quilt of governance and decision-making authorities; a tendency to add rather than replace or redirect; and a full-on fear of results-based accountability. Yet the fates (as well as the budgets) of general and special education are joined. In many schools, the latter is the place to stick the kids who have been failed by the former—a major cause of the sky-high special-education-identification rates in many states and districts.

. . . To its discredit, federal law bars the teams that develop Individualized Education Programs for disabled pupils from considering the cost of the interventions and services that they are recommending.

Improve general education so fewer kids end up in special ed, Levenson urges. If special ed is necessary, design cost-effective interventions. Above all, end maintenance-of-effort requirements that assume students are being served if dollars are being spent, regardless of whether the money is being used to help students learn.

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  1. I actually would like to see an end to the “free” part of FAPE. Families should have to pay a cost-share for special ed services the way that we do for the services our children receive under our health insurance. Implementing a cost-share would reduce the abuse of the system because parents would have some skin in the game.

  2. Special Ed is one of the greatest frauds in American history. IEPs are political in nature, not educational (why do you think the parents are always there with lawyers, treating the writing of an IEP like agents negotiating a contract between a sports team owner and a pro athlete?) and it’s all about “services”, not education for the special ed child, much less what’s best for the school as a whole. And, with so many parents these days trying to rig the system to get their kids in special ed for all the ‘benefits’ (“I’m sorry, Mrs. Henderson, your child is just not too bright, but normal. He’s not developmentally disabled”)

    • A non-insignificant part of the political nature is the babysitting aspect of “education” for those at the very bottom. My DD did a semester’s volunteer gig at her public school, in a spec ed “freshman” class of about a dozen 15-16 year olds. None could make intelligible speech, only a couple were toilet trained, only a couple could feed themselves with any kind of implement, most were in wheelchairs, none had a cognitive age above 2-3 and fewer than half knew their own names. They were neither educable nor trainable, yet their “class” had several master’s-prepared teachers and several more aides. How is this appropriate use of taxpayer money? Such kids should never enter the educational system; their custodial care needs should be addressed by HHS.

      Of course, there’s another group that will never be able to do more than the basics of academic education, but who are likely to be denied access to a program that would help them acquire enough life skills to enable employment. Instead, they are placed in an academic setting where they are unable to succeed – all in the name of equality.