How is the "success" of special ed programs assessed?

I doubt it’s as high as 80%, even if it’s a significant amount. And furthermore, I’d wager that 2/3-3/4 is spent on the special ed students, not the G&T students.

Ultimately the real question is where the money is best spent, seeing as most school districts are in a scarcity situation. Right now, the legal and social landscapes are such that districts basically have to attempt to ‘educate’ all students through 18, even if said ‘students’ are profoundly disabled and have little to no chance of independence.

This is… not the best use of limited resources within a school district. A lot of that money could be better spent with better outcomes on the average children, or the gifted and talented, or even on kids higher up the special ed ladder- think of what could be achieved if they put extra effort into socially awkward kids or autistic-ish kids, instead of using that same effort on kids whose life achievement will be to be potty trained or feed themselves?

I don’t pretend to know the answer, and I empathize with parents of those children, but at the same time, it seems inefficient to pour huge sums of money down the toilet trying essentially to teach the unteachable, when those same resources could be used to seriously improve conditions for other special ed children or non-special ed children.

Thank you for your thoughtful response. The problem I have, tho, is how to allocate limited resources.

Similar issues arise re: health care. Pay for one heart transplant, or 100,000 inoculations? Ideally both - but where does the money come from?

I think it is legitimate to discuss what a society ought to spend/provide in order to strive for what degree of life quality for differently abled people. It is a fine attitude for a someone involved in a system to say, “Allocate evermore resources. Who knows, something good might result down the line.” But IMO, most public funding reflects choices having been made. In order to decide where to allocate resources, it does not impress me as unreasonable to inquire as to results. “Okay, we gave you x% more money last decade. What did we get for it?” Sure, more people were employed in the industry, and more parents (at least those of recipients) were better pleased, but if positive results can’t be shown, maybe those funds could be better spent elsewhere.

Would you advocate that health care resources should only be allocated to those where we can guarantee a positive outcome?

It’s either write a check to provide ALL of them lifetime care, or pay for programs that will see a third or more achieve independence.
Which do you think is money better spent?

Accountants should never be gatekeepers for the triaging of resources. Those working in the field must and DO make hard choices about their allocation every day, I’m certain. They haven’t been given a blank cheque, they have limits they must work within, just like every agency.

Who said guarantee? But I do not see any problem, when deciding how to allocate public funds - in considering as one of many factors the probability of what degree of improved life quality for how long. So yeah - all things being equal - I’d give the heart transplant to the 20 yr-old before the 90 yr old.

I’m glad you are “certain” about the hard choices government employees and bureaucrats make. I’m just asking them to show their work.

In my decades of public employment, it impresses me as essentially standard for every organization to say they are doing a great job, but need more resources. While I would not depend SOLELY on the bean-counters, nor do I wish to rely overly on the general assertions of stakeholders.

And yes, I am aware of the need to protect against giving preferential treatment for those things than CAN be readily quantified.

The OP is asking how we judge whether or not the amount of money and the way that it’s spent is successful. Do you not think we should evaluate public services? Do you think special needs should have an unlimited budget?

By that logic, do you feel like expensive, futile cancer treatments in the 1970s and 1980s were misguided uses of funds?

There are some things you do because they are right, whether they are financial windfalls or drains. Depending on the severity of the mental handicap, many people with teaching and care can grow to be varying degrees of dependent, hold jobs, pay taxes. etc. Someone with a severe mental handicap, IQ under 50 or so, will never be able to be independent, and will always need care. Some will be cared for, taught, etc. and never show a whit of improvement in a lifetime. Plus there is always the chance that improvement will come after years of seeing none- each person is different. The only other options I am aware of are locking away in an asylum or euthanasia, aka the Nazi solution?

But no, all programs should be reviewed for financial abuse, etc. But this is one type of program where the standard measures of success should not and cannot be used.

nazi euthanasia elderly poster - Bing

Ding ding ding - Godwin has a winner! :smiley:

If those are the only alternatives you can think of, other than imposing this responsibility on schools and their budgets, then I think you lack imagination.

And yes, Manda Jo - perhaps some expensive, futile CA treatments WERE misguided uses of funds. But - of course - we would need specifics to discuss intelligently. Surely you can do better than trotting out a false equivalency. I would imagine that the folk proposing and funding those treatments offered their hypotheses as to what those treatments were intended to accomplish. I also assume the efficacy of those efforts - including possibly shaping the trends in research and treatment - could be studied afterwards.

Seems like the most common responses so far are variations of “the money is well spent because it is well intentioned and MIGHT result in SOME benefit to SOME recipients.”

Asking how best to allocate resources is legitimate. But in asking “how do we decide whether educating a special-needs kid is worth it?” you’re making an implicit assumption that the goal of educating special-needs kids is to reap some measurable return.

Many in special education would argue that this is not the point of their work. Rather, they might say, we have collectively decided that we want to live in a society that educates every child to the best of society’s ability. The point is not to reap some concrete return on investment but rather to provide to all children—even the special-needs kids—the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

You mention that health care seems analogous to you. I see your point. For example, many Americans would agree with the assertion that we don’t ration health care in the US. While we don’t do so explicitly, the reality is that many uninsured or underinsured people forgo care they genuinely need: this is de facto rationing.

And yet, US law requires ERs to treat everyone regardless of their ability to pay. We passed this law because the American people are generally uncomfortable with letting people die in the streets.

There are some parallels here: there’s definitely a finite bucket of money for special education, just like for health care. Wealthy districts provide better services than poor ones, just like wealthy people get better health care than poor people. But if a district’s special-ed budget magically doubled tomorrow, I’d expect that more kids would get more accommodations simply because there are more resources with which to accommodate them. So I’d claim that we have de facto rationing in education just like with do with health care.

Just like we’ve passed laws to require basic emergency care without regard to case-by-case cost/return, we’ve passed laws to require a shot at a decent education without regard to case-by-case cost/return. Both systems are broken to some degree or another, IMHO, but this is the social contract we’ve collectively entered into.

Besides, we routinely spend big bucks on things that have no direct, measurable return on investment. If we spend $200M on a joint military exercise with a group of allies, but it’s a little silly to insist that the expenditure can only be justified by a concrete, objective ROI. We get lots of subjective benefits from joint military exercises: readiness, coalition-building, improved morale and oblique demonstrations of military power.

Some of these benefits have some quantifiable aspects, but not everything we choose to pay for has an unambiguous and direct return on investment.

Is your concern about imposing this responsibility on the schools, specifically, or merely about imposing this responsibility on some government entity? If we take (some of) the money from the schools and give it to New Special Needs Agency instead, I’m not sure what that would accomplish, or even what it is supposed to accomplish.

One problem about measuring specifics is that students don’t fit into neat little categories: a label such as “Down Syndrome” or “Autism” covers a whole range of differing abilities and potentials. With cancer, you have some really obvious metrics (is the patient alive or dead? if alive, are they in hospital/nursing home, or able to work? etc.) and for the common cancers, it’s not hard to come up with a thousand adult patients who all have for example squamous cell carcinoma at stage III. Give 500 of them one treatment, 500 a different treatment, and see how many are still alive in a year or five years.

Now try to find a thousand special ed students in the same age range who have the same condition or combination of conditions in the same severity.

For the common physical disabilities, such as blindness/vision problems, you can do it. Strategies for teaching visually-impaired students who have no other comorbidities are fairly well understood, and you can find peer-reviewed research on the effectiveness or lack thereof of particular techniques. Similarly, the largest group of students served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are those with specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia or visual motor deficit, and again there is research on the most effective strategies for reaching kids with these kinds of issues.

However, these don’t seem to be the students who are the focus of this thread. Instead, we seem to be talking about children who have one or several complex disorders/disabilities and who have, at best, marginal potential for being able to function independently. That’s only a subset of special education students, for starters. Many of their issues are poorly understood: what, exactly, is autism? how many separate issues are lumped under “emotional disturbance” or “developmental delay”? etc.

If you don’t understand the kid’s issue(s) very well, though, how do you tell the difference between a education strategy that didn’t work because it was poorly-conceived and one that didn’t work because the student is utterly incapable of learning whatever you’re trying to teach? How do you measure the relative effectiveness of various techniques when you can’t find multiple students in the same situation to try different techniques upon?

Sure, you can evaluate whether a specific accommodation or treatment for a specific student made measurable improvement, but how do you generalize from that to what is going to be most effective for the next student who has perhaps similar symptoms originating from very different underlying conditions, or the student with the same diagnosis but a very different presentation? When you are talking about the severely disabled, you are talking about students who don’t fit into neat little categories (after all, there’s a reason they are called Individualized Education Plans), and drawing general conclusions from disparate data points is not particularly good science.

Thanks. I am prepared to be shown that my perspective/premise is flawed. But a couple of questions. Aren’t there generally shared assumptions as to WHY we feel public education is desirable? To develop a more informed populace? Better equipped workers? More able participants in democratic institutions? …

And aren’t there regular debates as to the sources and amounts of school funding, and how those funds are best spent? I suggest no more for special ed programs than I do for all school functions.

And can we really say that “we have collectively decided that we want to live in a society that educates every child to the best of society’s ability”? Does that apply to children from poor neighborhoods? Are additional opportunities provided to gifted students?

Also, at least some people (generally some of the most affluent, as well as some who have no kids, or the really selfish bastards IMO - whose kids have graduated :rolleyes:) seem to disagree as to the desirability of funding public education at certain levels.

I would imagine there were intended goals/results of such military expenditures. Such returns need not be “concrete, objective.” But that doesn’t mean there oughtn’t be SOME goals, and SOME way to measure success. Otherwise, what is there other than, “Believe me when I tell you that I worked really hard, with really good intentions, and did a really good job, so give me more and more money”?

Yes, that IS one possibility. Is the provision of services through school systems the best approach?

Is the provision of educational services the most cost-effective way to assist an individual through the entire course of their life. This phrasing will be overly harsh, but if it is a near certainty that a school age child will require lifelong support upon maturity, how much should be spent on education? Might those funds be better allocated elsewhere - either to the individual or not, or simply not spent?

It has only been a day, but it doesn’t seem as tho the type of factual info I had hoped for exists… So it may well be appropriate to move this to GD, IMHO, or wherever. But I don’t personally desire to push any particular position or agenda.

As a general matter (there might be some exceptions), I would HOPE that when a citizen encountered ANY governmental expenditure, that they would be able to ask a responsible bureaucrat WHY that expenditure was being made. And I would hope the answer would be based on something other than hopes and platitudes.

I don’t understand sending kids like this to “school”, but they have to go, and I’ll leave that to people who know more about it than I do.

That’s a good thing.

I remember reading about a poverty-stricken family in the Deep South that valued education, and all of their 10-plus kids graduated from college, except for one, and the parents said, “The school educated her hands.” That child did piecework in a sheltered workshop, something that might not have happened a generation earlier.

I had a great-aunt who was mentally disabled, and she never went to school or had a job, although nowadays, things would have been much, much different.

Right now, in my state there’s a lot of discussion about seclusion rooms, and on the message boards, there are some horror stories about parents who, among other things, decided to homeschool because the school HAD to mainstream a child who had no business being in a regular classroom, and not only were the classmates not learning anything, the children and staff were not safe around that person.

And of course, we get these goofballs who say that the kid just needs a good beating, and that will solve all their problems… :dubious:

Your second part is incorrect. Under the Rowley decision, the standard is not best possible education or most progress possible, merely that the child benefit from the educational experience. Thus each IEP has on or more goals for the student to attain over the next year. If they meet the goal(s), it is a success.

Pretty low bar to hit.

Saint Cad, MA (Special Education)

Now that you say it, that DOES sound familiar. I guess I think it is reasonable to inquire how much what degree of “benefit” costs.

As someone suggested upthread, I wonder whether similar benefit might not be better attained at lower cost somewhere other than in schools.

Well, that certainly sounds reasonable! I mean, surely you’re asking your questions in good faith, right?

This is one of your questions? It seems obvious to me that the answer is “yes.” Is that not also obvious to you?

Again, is this a serious question? I know the answer—yes—and I can’t imagine that you don’t.

Hmmm…you said you’d consider whether your premise was flawed, but only after asking some questions. I saw two uncontroversial statements posed as questions and then an opinion. Did you actually have questions, or did you just want to make your opinion seem especially reasonable?

I can’t quite square that with your reasonable-guy-asking-reasonable-questions-no-agenda-here vibe. You say you’re willing to consider that your premise or perspective is flawed; it’s hard to gauge how sincere that is.

Cognitive dissonance aside, this is GQ, so I assume you have a genuine question.

Yes, we can say that we’ve collectively decided this is important because the law we passed says as much. To wit:

[Emphasis mine]

The EHA was passed in 1975, I believe it’s been superseded/renamed, but if you’re trying to find a statement of intent, that’ll do. It even mentions that measures to educate these kids should be assessed to ensure their effectiveness.

Plus, there’s apparently some government document in a drawer somewhere that requires equal protection under the law. Bureaucrats, amirite?!?

Your OP said you’d like to know whether special ed programs are evaluated and how such evaluations define “success.” The very first reply said, “yes, programs are evaluated. Here’s an example of one such evaluation.” Others elaborated on how services are allocated to individual students (IEPs) and how difficult it is to measure the effectiveness of accommodations for a particular student.

And yet you keep saying things like “it sounds like a factual answer to my question doesn’t exist” and “it sounds like we spend the money because some people think it might do some good for someone.”

A factual answer exists and was provided in the first reply. We educate special-needs kids because the 14th amendment and federal law require that we educate them. The law requires the evaluations your OP asked about, even if these things are inherently difficult to evaluate.

If your questions are sincere, you’re curiously deaf to the answers. If your questions aren’t sincere, then why bother posting to GQ when we have a lovely forum for discussing matters of opinion?

Whether you are how to factor a polynomial equation or teaching how to use the toilet, you are teaching, and the people who are professional teachers would seem to be in a good position to do that work.

I also don’t see that there is such a sharp distinction between “education” and “life skills” as you do. Kindergarten teachers spend a lot of time teaching how to share toys, pay attention, and follow multi-step directions; older students learn about teamwork and understanding nonverbal communication. (For that matter, more than one kindergartner still needs help with tying shoes and buttoning coats.)

At what age are you comfortable writing off a child as never likely to amount to anything? Given the advances, in both medicine and in teaching techniques, over the past few decades, are you willing to say for example that this child with a traumatic brain injury (there were 27,000 of them in K-12 special ed, as of 2015-16) cannot possibly regain enough function over the next few decades to live independently, so it’s okay to stop trying?

Moreover, how are you defining “lifelong support”? Take the person with Down Syndrome who can with training hold down a job stocking or bagging at the grocery store but will never be able to manage their own finances; should we skip the training (thereby ensuring they cannot hold down the job) just because they are not completely independent in one or more aspects of their life?

Some questions have answers that should be self-evident. There’s a big difference, in both tone and substance, between “are we spending the money in the best way possible?” and “should we bother spending money on those people who will never be able to support themselves?”; if the answer to the latter is No, then what do you think is going to happen? We know from history what happens: if they can’t support themselves and society can’t/won’t/doesn’t support them, then they die, either a slow death through neglect or a fast death via euthanasia. The Nazis are hardly the only examples, with orphanages in modern Mexico and Russia and India providing contemporary evidence of what happens when you don’t make adequate expenditures.

“What level of resources ought a society direct towards an individual who has little/no chance of ever living independently, being gainfully employed, etc.?” Do you really expect any answer that isn’t some variation of “as much as is necessary to ensure they have at least a chance of a good life”?

The OP didn’t ask how SpecialEd measured up to standard measures of success though, they asked what measures of success were being used. That’s a perfectly fine question to ask and does not justify comparisions to euthanasia.