Special Ed. Coalition Finds Flaws in Report on School Staff Surge

By Kimberly Shannon — December 20, 2012 2 min read
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The National Coalition for Personnel Shortages in Special Education and Related Services has released a statement in response to a controversial report by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice that alleged that schools and districts had experienced staff bloating.

The Friedman Foundation’s report, entitled “The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools,” released in October, finds that the amount of United States K-12 public school students increased 17 percent while the number of full-time equivalent school employees increased 39 percent. It also finds that the amount of teacher staff rose 32 percent while the numbers of administrators and other staff rose 46 percent; it does not mention how many of these staff members are special education personnel.

The report claims that “after the sizeable increase in the teaching force and the dramatic upsurge in the hiring of nonteaching personnel, student achievement in American public schools has been roughly flat or modestly in decline,” citing falling scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The report goes on to suggest other ways in which the money used to fund these nonteaching personnel could have been used.

The statement by the special education coalition, however, claims that this report failed to acknowledge that the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act mandated educational equality for students with disabilities, thus increasing the need for teachers, school psychologists, speech-language pathologists, school social workers, and administrators, to “carry out legal—not to mention moral and ethical—mandates” for these students.

A 2012 Government Accountability Office report claims that the IDEA mandated some of “the most complicated and time-intensive requirements for states and schools,” according to the special education group. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education last year reported that every state had a shortage of special education personnel, which the statement says is “part of a decades-long trend.”

Another response to the Friedman Foundation’s report by the National Education Policy Center notes that the report does not acknowledge that “achievement scores and dropout rates have actually improved,” does not investigate reasons for this growth in personnel, and does not explain the duties and responsibilities of the new personnel.

A previous report by former Arlington, Mass., Superintendent Nathan Levenson suggested that the country could save up to $10 billion a year by cutting special education personnel in districts that spend more than the national average. Another report by Lindsey Burke, an education fellow with the Heritage Foundation, released in October, which is referenced in the Friedman Foundation’s report, also claims that the special education personnel sector is bloated.

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.