Ohio education leaders hear special ed improvement recommendations

Last week, Fordham and the ESC of Central Ohio welcomed Nate Levenson to the Buckeye State for a series of conversations with district and Educational Service Center superintendents, state policymakers, and education organizations that represent both traditional districts and charter schools. Levenson spoke about his ideas for making special education more efficient and of greater quality, which are laid out in his recent report Applying Systems Thinking to Improve Special Education in Ohio.

Throughout his time in Ohio, Levenson emphasized the following points:

1. The compliance-driven culture of special education needs to change. Compliance is ingrained deeply into the culture of special education. Because compliance is so worrisome for special education directors, it leads to perverse incentives; for example, the incentive to “over-identify” students as special needs and the incentive for special education training and professional development to focus on compliance rather than pedagogy and actual student learning.

2. Schools could become more efficient and provide higher-quality services by subcontracting special education services. Ohio’s Educational Service Centers, social service agencies, and non-profit and for-profit companies could provide a “dream team” of special education specialists that districts could bid for. Districts would therefore reduce the in-house cost of providing special education services by contracting these services to other partners.

3. Identifying kids as special needs doesn’t necessarily translate to better outcomes. When students are unnecessarily identified as special needs, it lowers expectations and may lead to educational complications, in the long-term. One example Levenson gave (and the people he met agreed with) happens when students who have special needs go to college. While in high school, too many of these students become dependent on the personalized attention called for in IEPs, yet once in college, they lose the personalized help and struggle to learn independently. Many, as a result, dropout.

It is clear that school leaders are struggling with how to improve special education outcomes, while also containing the steadily rising cost of serving special needs students. It is also clear that many of them are open to a new way of doing things and Levenson’s overall message resonated well: Sharing and collaboration can lead to win-wins for the stakeholders in special education, and most importantly it can lead to better services for some of our most vulnerable kids.

For more info on solutions to reform Ohio special education, download the report by clicking cover page below.

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