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.