The 1990 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandates, among other things, that each child with disabilities as defined by federal regulation receive an Individualized Educational Program (IEP). The IEP is produced by a panel consisting of the student, the student’s parents or guardians, a special ed teacher/case manager, at least one regular ed teacher, a representative of the school or district, and one or more specialists who are able to interpret the instructional implications of the student’s evaluation results.
The IEP itself includes an evaluation of the student’s present level of academic and functional performance, measurable annual goals of academic and functional performance, a description of how progress towards the goals will be measured and reported, the services which will be required to achieve the goals and a schedule of those service, least restrictive environment data, along with a few other requirements.
While I have little doubt that students who don’t meet the federal definition of having disabilities under the IDEA could benefit from such an individualized program, I think that holding that up as an objective of the educational system is frivolous. It simply won’t happen.
This approach to education is expensive but I don’t begrudge it to kids who are genuinely disabled as the federal government has defined it. Spending on a special needs kid is at least twice as expensive as that on a kid without such needs and may be as much a ten times as much.
We’re already spending on the order of a trillion dollars a year on education in the United States. It should be obvious that spending ten times that much simply isn’t in the cards, however desireable it might be.
There’s been a debate ongoing in comments on our educational system with some maintaining that the problem with our educational system is unions and other maintaining that all that is needed is more money. I think that while there’s a kernel of truth in each of these positions they’re only grabbing a part of the elephant.
Our educational system has reached a situation of bureaucratic displacement. We are spending three times in real terms on education what we did a couple of decades ago even, as in Chicago, as the number of students receiving an education declines. That spending is coming largely in the form of more administrators receiving higher total compensation with little measurable improvement in performance. Our problem is less unionization or insufficient spending than that we’re not getting value for the money that is being spent.