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November 30, 2010 3 min read
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Even on IDEA’s 35th Anniversary, Special Ed. Dollars Aren’t Free

What do Arne Duncan, Sarah Palin, Tom Harkin, and Mike Enzi all have in common? Answer: They, along with just about every other figure in education, turn into pandering sops the moment somebody mentions special education or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

They’ll dwell on how the feds need to fully fund their share, the rights of these families, and the need to do a better job of identifying and addressing special needs. All fair enough points. The problem is that none of our leaders can then bring themselves to utter the simple truth: “But we have an obligation to serve all our children, and responsible leadership means we have to weigh costs and benefits when it comes to allocating dollars, time, and energy.”

Last week was the 35th anniversary of IDEA, and the craven parade was on full display. A day after giving a terrific speech on the need to get serious about cost-effectiveness and stop pretending that edu-dollars grow on trees, Secretary of Education Duncan gave an anniversary speech that cheerfully listed entitlements the law conveys without ever once suggesting that these carried any kind of cost.

This really shouldn’t register as a radical plea. All I’m saying is that I’d love to hear leaders occasionally address special education in terms of how we ought to best balance our obligations to all of our children.
—Rick Hess


Schools of Last Resort

Whether the country is ready or not, parental choice of schools is here to stay. I support the policy because I believe that, ultimately, only parents know what is best for their children’s education.

But at the same time, it’s important to realize the limitations of the strategy. The fate of children whose parents are not involved in their education is given short shrift in the debate. If they are considered unavoidable collateral damage, then there’s nothing further to discuss. However, I don’t think most people will accept that outcome.

What is also overlooked is that when students in their schools of choice do not measure up for one reason or another, they are often pushed out. This can happen in a very subtle way. When this occurs, they return to their original schools, which become the schools of last resort, because traditional public schools cannot by law also push out underperforming students.

It’s impossible to know the exact details of the choice movement in the years ahead. But whatever develops, it’s unfair to expect traditional public schools to be able to compete with schools that play by different rules.
—Walt Gardner


Motivation to Ace NAEP: Prom Tickets

The question of whether 12th graders’ performance on NAEP sags because they just don’t care has hung on for quite a while now. The National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP, is grappling actively with what to do about it.

But what came out, intriguingly, during a recent press call is that schools, with NAGB’s blessing, are actually offering stuff to seniors to “motivate” them to do better on “the nation’s report card.”

Think tickets to the prom, or a coveted parking space.

Peggy G. Carr, the associate commissioner for assessment at the National Center for Education Statistics, which oversees NAEP, said this when asked about motivational materials: “We had a cadre of strategies we used to motivate” the seniors, she said. It was pretty much “anything that the school administration wanted to offer that was motivating.” She mentioned prom tickets and parking spots.

I got to wondering about the effect that prom tickets and such might have, so I asked a 17-year-old senior I know. If her response is any indication, schools might well be wasting their goody bags.

Would she try hard on a national test that had no personal consequences for her or her school?

“To be honest,” she said, “I would put zero effort into a test like that. I have way more important things, stuff that really matters to me, that I have to pay attention to.”

What about if she could win a school parking spot if she did well?

“Well,” she said, “maybe I’d try a little harder, but really, I don’t think it would make much of a difference.”
—Catherine Gewertz

A version of this article appeared in the December 01, 2010 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week


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