Special education, back in the spotlight

In special-education system, innovation leading the way, by Shannon Mullen, Asbury Park Press, November 26, 2010.

The special-education system has long been a thicket of politics, social obligations, massive spending, and (mis)diagnoses. Yet a backdoor benefit of strained district budgets and NCLB’s looming proficiency deadline is that this clunky and oft-untouchable system is seeing increased state-based reform moves. Florida, Georgia, and Utah offer vouchers to parents unhappy with the public schooling of their special-needs children (Ohio offers a voucher program limited to autistic students). A new-fangled data system that would provide an “electronic portfolio” of student achievement is being developed at the University of Kansas—with fourteen states set to pilot it in 2014-15. And in New Jersey, one public school district has trimmed SPED costs by partnering with a private service provider: The district provides facilities in exchange for a learning program for autistic students. Interestingly, these reforms aren’t just coming from cash-strapped districts or states wary of their federal proficiency designations. Disability-rights groups are also heeding the call for reform. One New Jersey advocacy group is pushing the state for a system-wide cost-benefit analysis of special education (they’d do well to reference chapter seven of our Stretching the School Dollar book)—something that hasn’t been done in fourteen years. Flowers of change are blossoming; we say let them bloom.

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