By way of Charlie Quimby at Across the Great Divide, we learn of a conversation regarding a survey of Minnesota school superintendents. Somehow, Quimby tells us, that spawned a debate on the Pioneer Press Web site regarding special education.
Said one commenter:
Minnesota needs to break free of Federal mandates that force us to spend 2.6 billion on special education and ESL (Supposedly reimbursed by the Federal Government but has never been so) and use this money to invest in the gifted and talented and “average” student body. We need to stop wasting 19% of our yearly State Education budget on future Wal-Mart greeters and spend it on our future engineers, scientists, and leaders!
When did "special education" become another word for "stupid"? What exactly is special education?
Here are a few examples.
It could be services -- perhaps, transportation -- for the blind student in Minnesota. Rep. Torrey Westrom might've been a beneficiary. He lost his sight in a farm accident in 1987, and went on to get a degree from Bemidji State, and is the first blind person elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives.
It could be education services for the deaf, which is not a reflection of intellectual ability. Just ask Sean Virnig of Faribault, who was stricken when he was 16. He's now a school administrator and just started a new business -- his own bicycle company.
It could be individualized instruction for students with a learning disability -- reading, writing, nonverbal etc. This might include dyslexia. Minnesota explorer Ann Bancroft has dyslexia. So does McKenzie Erickson, last year's student body president at Southwest High School in Minneapolis,. She had been a special education student since third grade.
And, of course, it certainly means English As A Second Language (ESL) student. And we're not reallyat the point where we think there's a relationship between IQ and the language one speaks, are we?
Clearly there is a debate to be had on special education funding; the federal government has not come close to living up to its promises. But maybe more education about what special education is should be required, before we tell students they can be nothing more than WalMart greeters.
If many of the special ed students went on to be productive like the examples you give it would be one thing. However, my anecdotally evidence is that many or even most of these students are the ones that cause problems disrupting the education of the majority and requiring much more money than other students.
The blame in most cases can be laid squarely on the parents who ignore or sometime foster misbehavior which then shows up in our schools as social and developmental problems.
I don't think we should ignore such students entirely (or a even higher proportion of them will end up in prison which will cost society even more). I do think we spend entirely too much on special education programs. We can not afford these mandates.
We as a society would benefit much more by taking most of that money and spending it on the average and above-average students.
Wasn't it Thandiwe Peebles, fomer school superintendent of Minneapolis, who complained about the disproportionate identification of African-Americans as EBD (Emotional/Behavioral Disturbed)?
This lucrative form of "special education" was rampant in the Minneapolis Schools before Ms. Peebles, who heavily criticised the district for the unscientific methods used to determine EBD.
I hope they have that problem somewhat under control these days.
"When did "special education" become another word for "stupid"? What exactly is special education?"
Good questions. Good examples followed.
But isn't the real question one of how much of a school's budget should be spent on special needs vs. non special needs? If it were meley a matter of funding the normal operation of a school & meeting society's expectations for what a public school education entails first, then adding accomodations for special needs kids on top, the system would work well. But money doesn't grow on trees, and the law dictates (apparently - this is a perception) that kids with special needs be accomodated - independent of costs. Given the limited budgets under which schools operate, that means less money is available for the kids that don't have special needs. If its unfair to deny kids with special needs an education because of those needs, is it not likewise unfair to deny other kids a quality education because money is spent on special needs kids?
I don't think anyone wants to create an environment where the groups are pitted against one another. But the sad reality is that this is exactly what happens because we aren't collectively willing to spend the money necessary to meet everyone's needs.
Well, the concept of not meeting everyone's needs would violate the Constitution. So, no, it's not really a question because the current interpretation of the Constitution doesn't say only those who are born perfect are entitled to an education.
I have to say some of the comments mirror the problem. People have reached conclusions on special education without much investigation of what it is. Anecdotal evidence, for example, makes for lousy public policy.
If we're going to deny a constitutional right, shouldn't we know what EXACTLY we're doing?
So I guess the proper question for those who think that special education students are by definition incapable of being anything other than WalMart greeters is: Can you prove it?
The "behavior problem" issue is a good one, but it's often used as a smokescreen. It's not as if there's the special education kids, and then there's the chess club.
When someone has said to me, "we can't spend this much money on special education," I usually ask , "how much is THAT?" They don't know, usually.
It's too important an issue to be based on what we think. It needs to be based on what we know. So what do we KNOW?
We talked in an earlier thread about enforcing the law. The federal government passed the law in 1975 (20 years after Minnesota), with a promise to pay for 40% of the costs. It's never funded more 18%. In 33 years, the president and Congress couldn't either (a) change the law or (b) fulfill its obligation?
The other reason school districts feel squeeze is Gov. Tim Pawlenty "capped" special education in 2003. But constitutionally, the districts can't cut special ed services. So Pawlenty actually helped create the funding problem in the districts that he and others now lament. That's the problem. The politicians made promises and then immediately broke them, forcing the school districts to figure out how to fix it. They had to take it from somewhere else and so that's why in a particular district the special ed costs as a percentage of the total budget goes up.
THAT's why the school superintendents say the funding mechanism is broken.
By the way, here's the Ed Depts report to the Legislature from last month.
Now, who wants to help put together an ad hoc survey of WalMart greeters? In the true spirit of the blogosphere, let's each take, say a dozen WalMarts and go talk to the greeter and find out what their educational "category" is.
In my post on the topic, I decided to leave my son out of it, but he was one of those kids who went through a gifted and talented program for years. Only later did we learn that his intelligence and talents masked his ADHD , and he is now dealing with it as an adult.
Special ed indeed encompasses a lot of different situations, and you've nicely captured the complexity, as well as failure of Pawlenty's approach to non-funding.