NotesFAQContact Us
Search Tips
ERIC Number: ED534985
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2012-Sep
Pages: 61
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 0
Boosting the Quality and Efficiency of Special Education
Levenson, Nathan
Thomas B. Fordham Institute
It's a woeful fact: Few students with special needs achieve a high (or even modest) level of academic proficiency. The latest (2011) National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results show, for example, that 62 percent of eighth graders with disabilities fell below the "basic" level in reading, as did 64 percent in math. This study is intended to open some windows and encourage some fresh breezes by examining three key questions: (1) How much variation in special education spending exists among districts?; (2) What can we learn from school districts that spend less on special education, yet achieve the same or better outcomes than demographically similar but higher-spending counterparts?; and (3) What savings might be realized if the special education field focused on outcomes rather than inputs? To find out, the author and his colleagues first analyzed the special education staffing patterns of more than 1,400 school districts, representing nearly one-third of all students in the United States. Then they drilled down into a purposeful sample--ten pairs of comparable districts in five states, with one of each pair spending less on special education but achieving at higher levels. They found the following: (1) If districts with above-average special education (SPED) staffing were able to staff at the national median, collectively they would save over $10 billion a year; and (2) The vast majority of special education spending in districts is for staff. Based on these findings, they close with three federal/state and two local policy recommendations. At the federal/state level, they recommend the following: (1) An end to maintenance of effort requirements; (2) Preserving and strengthening the Elementary and Secondary Education Act's (ESEA) subgroup accountability and reporting, including those provisions pertaining to students with special needs; and (3) Permitting greater flexibility in the use of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funds. At the local level, they recommend the following: (1) That districts employ "more effective" general education and special education teachers--not more of them or more non-teachers (i.e., aides); and (2) That they carefully manage pupil loads for special education teachers. Appended are: (1) Maintenance of Effort for IDEA Funds: Demystifying Required Special Education Spending Levels; (2) Data and Methods; (3) Data Requests; and (4) Selected Demographics for Participating States. (Contains 18 tables, 3 figures and 39 endnotes.) [Foreword by Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Michael J. Petrilli.]
Thomas B. Fordham Institute. 1701 K Street NW Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20006. Tel: 202-223-5452; Fax: 202-223-9226; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Numerical/Quantitative Data; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Elementary Secondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: Thomas B. Fordham Institute; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Authoring Institution: Thomas B. Fordham Institute