14 Million Reasons Why You Should Care About Special Ed

In my small school district in upstate New York, we pay over $14 million a year for under 600 pupils in Special Ed. That is over $20,000 per pupil—on top of another $20,000+ that we already pay for general education for everyone.

The money for Special Ed is well spent if it brings positive outcomes. But it does not. My district of Hyde Park fails to meet state standards for students with disabilities on almost every measure year after year.

The largest category in Special Ed is learning disabilities, mainly reading difficulties (or dyslexia). Other Special Ed groups also have reading difficulties, making reading services a major expense. And they are prohibitively expensive–so expensive that schools generally can only afford to give intervention to about half of their struggling readers. The rest of the students in need simply shuffle through the school system, with many eventually dropping out.

Ineffective intervention harms everyone. Taxpayers keep paying year after year for the same ineffective services that cannot get Special Ed students to independent learning. Half of the students in need do not get special support. The ones who do similarly feel defeated by fruitless efforts. All students get affected by budget cuts to accommodate the rising costs of Special Ed.

Schools have been slow to adopt the right kind of technology to resolve this problem. “Technology” means an invention that expands human capability. Reading or dyslexia specialists, no matter how well trained, have not been able to get students with reading difficulties to read on grade level after 3rd grade. Reading difficulties occur because of inefficient language processing in the brain. Human specialists cannot overcome these obstacles: the complexity and speed of language processing, and the huge computing capacity needed to treat the diversity of individual differences effectively.

The technology for resolving this most costly problem in education is readily available in the US. It costs only 1% of current spending on reading intervention in New York. So before you pay your next school tax, call your Superintendent to ask why you’re paying so much when you don’t need to.

Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash