A report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute that looks at special education during the past decade concludes that the field needs to change dramatically.
Among what’s needed, according to the Washington think tank, are better, more consistent data about students with disabilities and uniform definitions of different types of disabilities; a better handle on spending; an exploration of why some types of disabilities seem to be declining; and a fresh approach to teaching all students, because everyone has individual needs.
“Special education, like general education, needs a makeover for the 21st century,” the report says. “But we can’t get there,” it adds,"until we peel back the layers of financial and operational opacity that currently shroud the field and hinder our efforts to make it more transparent, efficient, and effective in the future.”
Nationally, the report finds, schools employ 129 special education teachers and aides for every 1,000 special education students, an increase from 117 a decade ago. But variations ranged from a reported 320 per 1,000 in New Hampshire to 38 per 1,000 in Mississippi.
While strategies such as response to intervention, or RTI, are credited with reducing the number of students identified with specific learning disabilities, the report says the drop deserves more study. Not all school districts have the same experience with RTI, the authors note.
While the authors were able to tally, to an extent, that special education spending consumed about 21 percent of all education spending in 2005, compared with 18 percent in 1996, they said there isn’t enough information about where the money is going. “That such large swaths of state and district budgets can go essentially unmeasured and unreported is scandalous,” the report says.
A version of this article appeared in the June 08, 2011 edition of Education Week as Study Urges Revamp of Special Education