Thursday, April 15, 2004


More and more kids are getting labeled ‘’special ed,’’ and more and more millions of tax dollars are going to pay for special ed programs.

Nowhere does the off-kilter condition of public education show more clearly than in special education, where they have things so drastically backwards of what the public wants.

In special education, the more kids are labeled ‘’disabled,’’ the more money the schools get . . . even if it’s clear that the curriculum and instructional methods that are being used are, to a significant degree, the reason they are becoming ‘’disabled.’’

Nationwide, estimates are that about two-thirds of the kids who are in special ed are there only because of ‘’reading failure.’’ There is nothing wrong with them medically. When regular instruction fails -- which it does more and more, since the wrong methods are being used in the early grades -- instead of correcting the ineffective instruction, schools just plunk the kids into special ed. There’s more money in it for schools, anyway.

Then the ‘’remedial’’ services they get in special ed do nothing for them. That’s why the proportion of kids in special ed doubles between grade school and the secondary level. Sheer frustration by kids and teachers is why the ‘’behavior disability’’ rolls are exploding, and so many kids with normal intelligence, but dysfunctional academic skills, are getting held out of tests so that they don’t drag down the score averages . . . and reveal the truth to the public. Schools employ more people and have more income stream . . . but kids are stuck for life as quasi-literate underachievers who have been disabled, not by nature, but by the very schools that were supposed to teach them.

And we’re paying for it, by the boatloads.

Think about that, on this Tax Day.

That’s not only sad. It’s crazy.

Special ed is the most damning evidence of all that the inmates are in charge of the asylum, when it comes to managing public schools . . . and the public funds that run them.

I mean . . . Wouldn’t it make a heck of a lot more sense to have financial rewards for bringing a child OUT of dysfunction, and into academic achievement? Instead, we’re throwing more and more money at what’s obviously not working, and miring more and more kids in the underclass.

Yet the stubborn refusal to change back to traditional educational methods and philosophies despite the obvious failure of ‘’progressivism’’ is why we are seeing such astounding overstaffing, as reported Wednesday in Go Big Ed.

Also note that the increase in special ed comes in the face of astounding reductions in class size. Take the state’s largest school district, the Omaha Public Schools. In 1970, 48.6 percent of the elementary pupils in OPS were in classrooms with 31 or more pupils. By 1997, that had fallen to .6 of 1 percent.

You’d think that’d be a set-up for success. Yet the special education rolls mushroomed during that time.

Again: more and more tax dollars and more and more staffers are being applied to fewer and fewer students . . . and because the wrong methods and philosophies of basic instruction are being used, the kids are become more and more academically dysfunctional.

In Nebraska public schools, special education instruction cost $128.2 million in the 1992-93 school year . . . and $245.1 million a decade later. That’s a 91.2 percent increase in 10 years.

SPED instruction costs accounted for 15 percent of total instruction 10 years ago. That figure reached 18.8 percent in the 2002-03 school year.

Consider the cascading consequences of this increase in the broad range of infrastructure costs. Take school-age special ed transportation: in 1992-93, it cost Nebraska taxpayers $11.1 million. A decade later, it was $19.6 million. The increase alone is more money than most Nebraska school districts have in their annual budgets.

Nebraska is certainly not alone in this. Over in Iowa, a citizens’ group has reported that special ed enrollment grew statewide by 39 percent in the decade from 1992-02, while total public-school enrollment in Iowa fell by 1.4 percent. In Cedar Rapids, SPED growth was 48 percent in a decade.

The Iowalive Network (www.crlive.com/iowalive/specialed.htm) has been highly critical of public-school test scores in Iowa. In relatively under-funded private-schools, test scores show children of equal demographic backgrounds in private schools are doing much, much better than their public-school peers. Why? Because the private schools are using more of the traditional teaching methods that make kids literate and numerate.

Iowalive says the special education model rewards dysfunction, not function, and provides powerful disincentives to schools to get kids reading and writing well. There’s no pressure to employ the best, most cost-effective practices. The ever-increasing income stream provided by SPED funding is a ‘’reward’’ for schools to keep doing the things that keep a lot of kids unfairly dysfunctional academically. The citizens’ group blames self-interest in union leaders and the education bureaucracy for this state of affairs.

I know, this is all very depressing. Tax Day is ALWAYS depressing. You know, on this day in 1912, the Titanic sank, too.

My question is: are we going to let our public schools do the same?

I say NO! I say we follow the example set by longtime OPS board member and State Board of Education member Ann Mactier, who donated money to train teachers in two low-achieving inner-city Omaha schools, Central Park and Kellom, so that they would use proper phonics, not whole language . . . and those are the only two low-income schools in OPS now that have lofted their standardized test scores out of the cellar.

I say we fire the people who have been devoting Title I federal funding to no-account remedial programs that don’t work, and get people in there who will use our tax dollars to benefit kids and get them OUT of special ed, not stuck in it forever.

I say we vote out of office every federal, state and local school-board member and legislator who has gone along with this despicable “on-purpose disabling” of our children, and replace them with people who really WILL put kids first. Not the union. Not the educrats. KIDS.

And I say that since that’s probably wishful thinking, we’d better get as many kids onto the lifeboats of private education and homeschooling that we can, over the next few years. If things don’t change soon, we may ALL go down with the ship.


One in a series on Nebraska school finance issues based on an article on the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation’s education website this week:


For Nebraska public education spending reports, see statewide and individual district annual report information on:


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