How federal rules block innovation

Federal education funding is supporting the status quo, argues a new Center on Reinventing Public Education report, Federal Barriers to Innovation. Authors Raegen Miller and Robin Lake focus on Title I funding for disadvantaged students and  IDEA funding for disabled students.

 The Title I comparability loop hole, for instance, prevents districts from adopting promising new technology–based school models. If a district has a high-poverty school staffed with inexperienced, lower-paid teachers, and an affluent school of the same size staffed with the same number of more experienced, higher-paid teachers, those schools are considered to have comparable staffing levels. The loophole masks the true educational costs of schools, reinforces a traditional compensation system that favors tenure and post-graduate education, and prevents districts from differentiating pay in strategic ways.

IDEA’s maintenance of effort requirement forces districts to keep spending money “without regard for its efficiency or effectiveness.” That blocks innovative teaching methods and technologies.

Instead, IDEA needs a “challenge waiver” system, Miller and Lake write.

Districts could be granted waivers for the 100 percent spending threshold on special education and related services “provided they furnish a coherent, strategic special education plan documenting the rationale for a lower threshold.” Such a system would encourage more data-driven decision-making, while random audits would ensure fidelity of implementation.

In addition, they call for “redirecting Title II funds (an amalgam of funding streams supporting ineffectual professional development and class-size reduction programs)” toward effective new instructional technologies.

Sensible ways to fix special ed

Special education is overdue for “common-sense” reform, writes attorney Miriam Kurtzig Freedman in The Atlantic. “The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is an example of a statute that has achieved its noble mission but now urgently needs to be fixed in order to address its unintended consequences.” She proposes:

Focus on improving regular education for all students. The better that regular education is, the fewer students need to be identified for special education services. When developing inclusive programs, schools should base them on effective teaching practices that improve educational outcomes for both students with disabilities and regular education students.

. . . end the “medical model” in which IDEA eligibility for services requires a specialist’s diagnosis. This model is costly, problematic, and inexact. It often kicks in too late, after previously undiagnosed students have struggled and failed. The far better solution is to provide timely and appropriate education services for all students in our schools, based on their current performance, without the need for a diagnosis or label.

End the compliance-based approach to special education. Parents and teachers alike should be liberated from endless form-filling and meetings. Compliance does not improve student results. Only time on task — in classrooms — does.

Finally, use mediators, ombudsmen or other dispute-resolution models to encourage trust and collaboration between parents and schools, suggests Freedman.