I recently wrote on the sharply declining number of special education students in Texas. Despite overall population growth, the state’s special education population dropped by more than 103,000 children in seven years. Texas now diagnoses just 8.8 percent of students as special education, 4 percentage points below the national average.
Some top education officials attribute the gains to improved beginning reading instruction. They say that teachers are doing a better job teaching elementary school children to read, preventing many learning disabilities from developing. Others are more skeptical about the decline, speculating that school systems are refusing to identify students to save money or avoid accountability measures or that parents are opting out of a system they feel is ineffective. An interesting report on the topic was released last year.
I received dozens of interesting emails on the issue. Here is a sampling of edited responses with identifying information excluded:
” … We did have to be careful of our recommendations for special ed. I know that we were close to having a special needs population that qualified for a subgroup for the then TAKS. I believe then it was 10% of the school’s population that qualified for special ed. We all were aware of that as an influence for recommendations. Every child was broken down by data to figure where he/she would fall for a “ding,” or an influence on our overall school score. Low SES “ding”, minority “ding”, special ed “ding. Some students could be “dinged” three times in our overall school score. Overall low school performance … meant extra workshops, Saturday classes, extra data meetings, extra extrapolation of objectives and extra meetings with the math and reading specialists. No one – administration or teaching staff – want the label of low-performing school.”
– A former teacher in a Houston-area district
“This is how the school scam works in Texas. The school tells the state they have a special needs student who needs all these services. The state sends the money to the school for the services. The school sets up a meeting with the parents and tells them how great there kid is doing and the offer them one or two services, the parents agree to those services, and sign the paper from the school. the left over money from the services that was not offered stay with the school and most of the time go to help the football team and other items not in the special ed dept. and the parents never find out.”
– A mother who pulled her special-needs daughter out of public school
“It seems to us that Texas schools are so strapped for cash, and so whipped by test scores that only allow for a small percentage of special ed students to take a spec. ed. STAAR (and previous TAKS) test, that they designate as few kids as possible as special ed. Not only is this sad for the children not getting the help that they need, but there is an equally troubling impact on the education of the regular ed. students. In fact, if the regular ed parents knew what was really going on in the classroom, they would be raising some serious questions (and maybe even voting for some serious taxes).
– Houston teacher
“To attribute the decline in numbers to allegedly positive measures undertaken by the state of Texas without any data to support these assertions is misleading and a means to deflect inquiry into the truth as to what may be causing this decline.”
– Mother, advocate for special-needs children
“Anecdotally, I know of many other parents who have given up in frustration and are homeschooling their kids. The local Autism Society email list serve is replete with horror stories of parents who tried unsuccessfully to get services for their kids and chose not to sacrifice yet another year or more of their kids’ education and well-being while they continued to fight the system, electing instead to pull their kids out of school. Intractable administrators, unwilling and/or untrained teachers, general lack of resources and –if services are actually obtained – the need to constantly monitor what’s going on at school to ensure that hard fought services are actually being provided have driven many parents out of Texas public schools.”
– Mother of a child in special education
“A big problem in special education is the parents and schools may have the same goals for the child, but for whatever reason, the school isn’t providing the appropriate early intervention. That is why all of us parents have contemplated private education for our children. So if you want to know where all the special education children are, check private schools and find the parents that are being denied special education. I can’t tell you how much we have spent on private ST, OT and PT, but I can tell you where my daughter would be if we had to rely solely on special education.”
– Mother of a young special-education child
You may also want to consider the parents who just “withdraw” their children from school because of ALL the difficulties associated with them attending. I know of several parents who did this … The benefits of them attending was out weighted by dealing with the administration. Most of the time they were not learning or advancing, in fact I felt my son was regressing.
– Father of a special-needs child
“The funding doesn’t exist to pay enough diagnosticians to keep up with the testing. The funding doesn’t exist to hire special education teachers/aides or isn’t being applied to hiring an adequate number of special education teachers or aides. The attitude among most experienced teachers is ‘Why bother getting them tested? They won’t get the help they need anyway.’”
– A Houston teacher
“Federal law has a 2 percent cap on sped students whose scores are exempt from test scores that count against districts. Educators are pushed not to qualify more than that percentage. In Texas, the STAAR test has a regular test and a STAAR M or modified. If more than 2 percent take the M, everything over 2 percent counts as a failure regardless of the actual score and results are counted against district’s on their ratings.”
– Unidentified commenter