Pissed Off at Schools

If you haven't seen the video of the furious dad who wired his autistic kid and recorded the unprofessional teachers, you should. The man heaves with anger and frustration. We've had our issues with school districts, but we're lucky to be in a good place right now. That's not true for a lot of my friends.

Right now, four out of my 250 friends on Facebook are homeschooling their kids. Two or three others write occasional posts about legal battles and nasty phone calls from teachers. Another handful pulled their kids out of the public schools all together and are now paying buckets of money to private schools.

These families are not your run of the mill homeschoolers. They're not religious and have Obama stickers pasted on the back of their Subarus. All have kids with some special needs – ADHD, autism, ED, dyslexia – and they say that their schools refused to provide the right services for their children. 

Right now, there are over 2 million children being homeschooled. How many of them are kids with special needs? We have no idea; no research has been conducted on this yet. My circle of Facebook friends is hardly a large scale, randomized sample, but it does lead me to ask questions. 

Before 1975, the public schools made no accommodations for kids with special needs. Nearly 2 million kids received no public education and were either institutionalized or remained at home with their parents. 15 percent of all children are diagnosed with a special need. School districts blame them for bringing down test scores and for stealing money from the other 85 percent of kids. Are the gains that were made in the past 30 years being undone by cash-strapped school districts who are increasingly resistant to caring for the unlucky 15%? 

45 thoughts on “Pissed Off at Schools

  1. Catherine Johnson (of Kitchen Table Math) has a recent post where she talks about how an NY district created a petition (!) for parents to sign, asking for the district to be released from certain current obligations to special ed children.
    From the petition, “Mandate relief would provide districts with greater flexibility to meet student needs and to control spending without reducing the quality of education. A revised system without these costly (and in many ways outdated) mandates would better serve all of our students. Overall, enacting legislation to eliminate or modify mandates would provide much needed relief to taxpayers.”
    4,000 out of 19,000 town residents have signed. Catherine argues that the term “outdated” is being seriously abused here.
    http://kitchentablemath.blogspot.com/2012/04/do-general-ed-parents-really-want_15.html
    http://kitchentablemath.blogspot.com/2012/04/eastchester-school-district-protests.html?showComment=1335355104527

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  2. I hear you: homeschooling four kids, three boys have ADHD, we are liberal Obama voters, UUs, greenies… I have a host of reasons and yes, “the schools aren’t good enough” and “the schools don’t accommodate our ADHD/dyslexic kids” is right up there among the top five.

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  3. You could go to the Special Needs board on the Well-Trained Mind forums and ask a lot of the parents there about their experience homeschooling special needs kids. (But before you do, you might want to edit your slightly snarky remark about “run of the mill” homeschoolers, as those boards attract a wide range of people.)

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  4. Has any generation really been happy with the schools? I just think of the cases we read in education law that established the principle that yes, kids have to go to school but no, the state can’t make parents send kids to public school, and all the myriad other issues, and it seems like people have been pretty pissed off at schools since there were public schools. I’m sure specific hot-button issues change over time, but still, discontent seems to be a constant.

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  5. This is such a difficult topic for me right now. My son does not as far as I know have a LD or other special need although he is having some trouble writing properly. We totally support public schools. I have had my child in a Montessori prior to grade 1 so I have dealt with having him in daycare/a school so it’s not that he’s coming from a rarified home-only environment or whatever.
    And I find public school (hopefully just our teacher) has been a disaster. My kid has gone backwards in his learning, learned to zone out, dealt with a round of bullying, the assignments have been weirdly, WEIRDLY disparate – from 2 months of counting/grouping worksheets in class but “create an invention that works and a booklet and a verbal report about it” at home, and just absolutely basically it has been a crazy roller coaster with moving curriculum targets and a terrible experience all around.
    I am kind of heartbroken. I believe in public schooling; I don’t want to homeschool for a wide variety of reasons; I’m not quite wealthy enough to fund two private school educations without crazy adjustments to our lifestyle I’m not sure I’m willing to make and it’s just killing me. AND we’re in GRADE ONE.
    Sorry that got ranty. And I’m Canadian. But whatever is going on is disturbing.
    And I am heartbroken

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  6. I couldn’t watch it. Does anyone have a transcript out there?
    I honestly think that “wires” need to be used more often in these situations (vulnerable populations + those who have a lot of control over their lives). We need to figure out what rules we need about privacy, but I want more passive monitoring of teachers/prison guards/police/hospital workers/long term care workers/ . . . .

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  7. “Are the gains that were made in the past 30 years being undone by cash-strapped school districts who are increasingly resistant to caring for the unlucky 15%?”
    I don’t think so. I think things are a million times better than they were, and that the challenge being faced is how to do more and more with the same (or for many of these districts) less money. And, within the constraint that children with special education labels have (federal legal) rights within the system but other children don’t.
    I’m a pretty extreme liberal and I believe in public schools and universal health care and social safety nets, but I think when we provide them we need to have tough discussions about what the entire society will be required to provide. In fact, I think that when we don’t have those discussions, we get to precisely this point, where parents flee to private schools to avoid perceived “behavioral problems” in the classroom or the perceived differences in resources (money and teacher time) spent on kids who are not their kids.
    Mind you, I often see this discussion from the other end of “needs”, with parents talking about whether their “highly talented” children are being served adequately. But my bottom line is that if we promise too much we end up with nothing (or a lot of resistance to what we provide). I think we have to have economic and utilitarian discussions (even if we also believe that health care and educational are fundamental rights of individuals).

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  8. Wow.
    I live in a town immediately adjacent to Cherry Hill, and the only reason we live here instead of there is because it is easy walking distance to the train into Philly. To the extent that our two predominant house-hunting factors was quality public education and closeness to public transportation, Cherry Hill was near the top of the list because of the schools.
    This isn’t a poor, struggling school district that feels that they have to choose between special needs kids and others. This is a mostly white upper middle class neighborhood with big Jewish and Asian minorities. You think that could never happen here, but for me Cherry Hill is pretty much “here.”

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  9. “My kid has gone backwards in his learning, learned to zone out, dealt with a round of bullying, the assignments have been weirdly, WEIRDLY disparate – from 2 months of counting/grouping worksheets in class but “create an invention that works and a booklet and a verbal report about it” at home…”
    Oh my goodness. I hope you gave some feedback on the invention (after the end of the school year?), so that the teacher doesn’t keep using that assignment.
    My fourth grader has had some fairly serious elementary (!) physics this year at our private school and they studied simple machines. Then, and only then, did they get an assignment to plan and build a machine with documentation explaining how to replicate it. That’s what I mentally refer to as a “daddy assignment,” because I hand over any construction school project to my husband, seeing as he’s the one who has a drill press, etc., and knows what to do with it. Of course, not everybody has a daddy around, and not everybody’s daddy is handy. (Insert PC disclaimer here about how some mommies are really good with a circular saw, have excellent spatial and mechanical skills and just LOVE school projects that involve woodworking.)

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  10. They totally tricked-out the circular saws and made it much harder to accidentally remove a finger. It’s not any fun now.

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  11. But think of the inspiration for the budding transplant surgeons in the fourth grade classroom! And what a college essay that would be…

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  12. bj,
    Some of the most uncomfortable moments I’ve had in our school district have been at those “talented and gifted” parent meetings, where actual parents accuse the district of squandering all the money on the special-needs population, rather than their own very gifted offspring. I have had to physically leave meetings to keep from yelling at them. Because, I’m sorry: life-saving services for a disabled kid or life-changing services for an autistic kid aren’t really on the same playing field as harder math for Johnny.
    But the fact is that these services are very expensive. Our average outlay is approx. $10K per kid in our district. But,there are kids for whom $70K+ per year would be needed to provide full services. Our district is known for providing these services reasonably well, and people move from other cities to get the services. (Although we are at the 15% rate, so maybe that is not as true as I think it is.) The district has made deep cuts in programs like music, art and foreign languages as it attempts to survive yearly budget cuts.
    So, I don’t have a solution. But wouldn’t we, as a society, rather err on the side of taking care of the kids who need the most help?

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  13. Well, one improvement, that Laura has mentioned before, is that we need to share the cost of expensive care more generally across the nation. That is, the federal mandate needs to have federal funding.
    I’m not arguing against compassion and morality or in favor of a purely utilitarian system. I do think, however, that we have to address the costs and where the resources will come from (even when we have a bottom line that can’t be breached, like every child has the right to an education).
    It’s the same argument I make in the global warming debate. I’m allowed to assign a utility cost of infinity to the fate of the polar bears (which will make any utilitarian argument against the “cost” of saving a bear useless on the scale). But, I want to accept the cost I’m expecting society to bear, not to hide it.

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  14. Kristen–
    I think it’s fair that you, as an individual, would rather err on the side of taking care of the kids who need the most help. I think it’s an open question whether it’s fair for a kid who needs 70K in services per year to keep a school from having a music teacher. $70000 per year is a huge amount of money. I don’t think it’s apparent, unarguable, utterly determined, that it’s better for one child to get that kind of focused support at the expense of, say, an entire elementary school losing exposure to instrumental music. That is the kind of cut that I have seen in a local district, local school.
    My husband’s graduate work is in the area of teaching students with disabilities. I am not anti-inclusion, not anti-services. But I don’t think that “we always give to the neediest students” can be the whole mode of budgeting. There are finite resources; giving Kid A what it would take to teach him to read might mean that Kids B through Z, or B through ZZZZ, don’t get art classes more than once per month….or have class sizes of 30 rather than 20….or yes, don’t get to have AP courses.
    I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that we, as a society, have actually come to the decision that resources go to the neediest kids, unquestionably and without considering how many other kids’ educations are being lessened by that choice. We haven’t figured out where the balance can be struck, or how. No one wants to tell your grade schooler with PDD, who is a danger to himself and to others unless accompanied by a 1:1 shadow, that he can’t be part of the public school. But that shadow is going to take physical space in the classroom. That shadow’s salary is going to be money that isn’t available to hire a school nurse, or to replace the band uniforms every 12 years, or to take the kids on a field trip to a nearby historical site, or to update the software/hardware in the high school computer facilities, or to hire someone to run a drama program that would have occupied 100 high school students in making costumes/building sets/rigging lighting/learning lines/practicing for pit/ushering/flyering/etc. That kid with the shadow needs help, and that help isn’t available from volunteers. So….100 other kids will lose out on things that are small on the surface but that add a LOT to engagement, to ownership, to opportunities to shine outside the classroom, to culture, to community. I don’t think the “right” choice is always clear.

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  15. “That is, the federal mandate needs to have federal funding.”
    So, there will be a total disconnect between revenue available and funds spent and the end of all reality in special education budgeting. It will be like Medicare, but with adorable little moppets.
    Keeping education funding local keeps some feedback from reality in the system. With a $1.4 trillion deficit between incoming revenue and spending (and total debt ticking toward $16 trillion), reality is in terribly short supply at the federal level.
    Also, if NJ, a very wealthy state, can’t take care of its own special kids, it will a fortiori be even less capable of doing so when NJ’s funds are pooled with money from much poorer states and spread over the entire country. If NJ can’t handle the burden of special ed funding, nobody can.

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  16. re: monitoring vulnerable populations. Perhaps all classrooms of highly disabled children, daycare facilities, old age homes, and even public areas of prisons should have cameras where the public could monitor behavior by staff. I bet this abuse happens a lot.
    re: Finite sums of money and a zero sum game. I can see KD’s argument that one special needs kid can mean that an entire school district loses funding for a band teacher. I’m quite certain that my old public school district did a happy dance when we moved. However, special needs kids need to be educated and their education is always going to be expensive. Their education can mean the difference in their quality of life.
    But we make these trade offs all the time in health care. One cancer patient can run up hundreds of thousands of dollars in health care costs. That money could be used to provide free dental care to hundreds of needy kids. Yet, we have decided that it would be immoral to deny care to the cancer patient. Isn’t it equally immoral to deny education services to a profoundly disabled child?

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  17. Laura, that health care analogy is flawed. The cancer patient and the needy kids are not necessarily drawing from the same pool of money, the way the schoolchildren in KD’s argument are. If the cancer patient has insurance and deep pockets, that’s a separate stream of money. And if the cancer patient doesn’t, you better believe their quality of care is limited as a result of their inability to pay. Anyone who’s been treated as a patient without health insurance and one with insurance can tell you some of the differences.

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  18. Yeah, the cancer patient without health insurance gets much sucky services, but let’s put that aside for a second. (That’s a whole different kind of wrong.)
    Insurance money isn’t magic money – a magic ATM that dispenses cash from thin air. Insurance money comes from you. Because we pay out tons of premiums on health care every year, we can’t spend money on other things that could benefit everyone more equally. We’ve decided to not cut off services for the cancer victim, not only because it would be horrible, but because none of knows whether or not we’ll get cancer. We might get cancer or a loved one might get cancer and we don’t want anyone holding back on new treatments or MRIs or whatever.
    The same goes for special education. You don’t know if you’ll have a kid with special needs or a cousin or a niece with special needs. It’s random. We should think of special education the same way. Pay for it now, because someone you love might need it tomorrow.

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  19. But we make these trade offs all the time in health care. One cancer patient can run up hundreds of thousands of dollars in health care costs. That money could be used to provide free dental care to hundreds of needy kids.
    I think the problem is that we DON’T make these kind of trade-offs, and it is causing Medicare expenses and health insurance premiums to go through the roof.
    (Also, if a Republican starts talking about trade-offs, he is “destroying the social safety net”, and if a Democrat starts talking about trade-offs, he’s “rationing health care” and setting up “death panels.”)
    I don’t think comparing education to health care, with the point that education should be treated more like health care, is going to be a winning argument.

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  20. Laura said:
    “It’s random.”
    Not entirely. Certain things are genetic, and certain congenital conditions are entirely avoidable (for instance low birth weight from maternal smoking, fetal alcohol syndrome and prenatal cocaine exposure). If any of Nadya Suleman’s octuplets have special needs due to their unusual (and very planned) gestation, that won’t be random chance. And of course maternal and paternal age matter, too.
    There are real flukes, but it’s not all random rolls of the dice.
    Ragtime said:
    “I think the problem is that we DON’T make these kind of trade-offs, and it is causing Medicare expenses and health insurance premiums to go through the roof.”
    “I don’t think comparing education to health care, with the point that education should be treated more like health care, is going to be a winning argument.”
    Right.

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  21. KD, I completely agree that we need to find a balance, especially with limited funds and expensive needs.
    But at the end of the day, I, personally, am willing to allocate more of the pie of limited tax dollars to kids with higher needs (homeless kids….kids living in poverty…kids with a physical disability…autistic kids)
    I just can’t see us ever saying, “Sorry kid in a wheelchair, you can’t go to public school because we can’t afford the access doors/ramps/elevators.” So how can we justify denying services for a kid with down syndrome or autism?
    To me, that is the whole purpose of government programs and government spending: to do as a collective the things we can’t do alone. The parents of a disabled kid shouldn’t have to do it alone.
    My kids go to a high-poverty school. (Most people in my demographic flee this school to attend a richer, more homogenous school just a mile away.) But kids who don’t fit in well at other schools flock to our school, including quite a few families with special needs kids. And I think we are all richer for this diversity. Think of an island-of-misfit-toys-middle-school, and that’s pretty much us.

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  22. Amy P said:
    “That is, the federal mandate needs to have federal funding.”
    So, there will be a total disconnect between revenue available and funds spent and the end of all reality in special education budgeting. It will be like Medicare, but with adorable little moppets.

    Much special ed is already paid for via Medicaid (the kid equivalent of Medicare). My husband, for example, is a speech therapist working in schools. Depending on his workload he can be a profit center for his school.
    But anything that’s not overtly tied back to therapy is not covered by Medicaid – things like extra classroom aides, for example – and must be paid for via regular educational funding.
    Which just shows that a federal mandate is needed, because these expenses are driven by health care needs, not education needs. We as a country provide disability support for families where a member cannot work because of health issues. We should likewise be covering this health-generated expense as a shared expense.

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  23. I’m having the same conversation on Facebook right now and with a few people in private. Some thoughts:
    1. A number of people are telling me that their kids aren’t officially disabled, but are quirky in some way — too artistic, can’t handle rules or transitions, very smart — and they have had huge problems with public schools, so that they’ve either had to homeschool or put their kids in a private program. So, those are kids who are outside of the official 15% with a disability and they’re having problems with the public schools.
    2. If we take the position that special ed kids are too expensive to educate and we should focus on the majority, then why should the special parent pay taxes that goes to a school district that won’t serve their needs?
    3. Charter school opponents claim that charter schools would skim out the best students and leave the hardest kids for the public schools. Well, the public schools are already skimming, if they are pushing out parents that have kids that don’t fit the norm.

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  24. Amy:
    Not entirely. Certain things are genetic, and certain congenital conditions are entirely avoidable (for instance low birth weight from maternal smoking, fetal alcohol syndrome and prenatal cocaine exposure)
    But, to Laura’s point, it is random at least to the extent that healthcare for cancer treatments are random — lots of factors increase or decrease your chances, but nobody asked us to skimp on my father-in-law’s cancer treatments just because he was an ex-smoker.

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  25. If we take the position that special ed kids are too expensive to educate and we should focus on the majority, then why should the special parent pay taxes that goes to a school district that won’t serve their needs?
    That’s the same argument that the oldsters and childless and Catholic school attendees make about public school funding altogether. “Why do we have to pay for schools that we aren’t going to use.” If you make it a “What’s in it for me” argument, you’ve lost before you’ve started.
    I also think you are framing in as very all-or-nothing manner. So the average kid costs $10K, but a special needs kid is costing $70K? Well, what if there was only $35K available? Could the kid get an appropriate education for his issues, but not have mainstreaming available for the subjects where that would be appropriate? Could he be education at a magnet school that is set up for her type of issue, but requires an hour bus ride instead of the five minute walk to the local school? Would you take a $35K voucher so that you are two other families can pay a private tutor $105K for a 3-person classroom directly addressing your needs?
    Every kid should be entitled to an appropriate education, and it completely sucks that schools try to deny kids the services that they really need. But it is also the case that a list of things that are recommended for inclusion in an IEP are not all 100% required to prevent a kid from getting an appropriate education.
    Million dollar business idea: Special education insurance targeted at pregnant women?

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  26. If the public school system isn’t fulfilling its mission, which is to serve ALL children, then I’m not sure why anyone would support it.
    i have a big problem with this whole zero sum arguments, ie. if we only have $X, then a special ed is depriving the regular kid of band uniforms. The only reason that we have these discussions is because education is funded with local dollars and every school board in America is turning the special ed kid into a demon. Frankly, the federal government spends a lot of money on lots of things that I don’t like. If we had never gone to Iraq, every special ed kid in the US would have a gold-plated education. Perhaps we should raise taxes more on rich people.

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  27. “re: monitoring vulnerable populations. Perhaps all classrooms of highly disabled children, daycare facilities, old age homes, and even public areas of prisons should have cameras where the public could monitor behavior by staff. I bet this abuse happens a lot. ”
    well, I hope that the treatment doesn’t happen a lot, but I think children/adults who can’t communicate the treatment are going to be a truly vulnerable population. I think we should be having the discussion about monitoring, now that it’s possible (some police forces are starting to actively test body cams, for example). The issues to resolve won’t be simple, though. The main issue with monitoring classrooms is the monitoring of the other children — we can require the teacher give up their privacy, but what about the children? And, I wouldn’t extend the monitoring to the public. I’d have strict rules about who can view, who can save, and how the information could be used. But, I’d be more comfortable if the monitoring existed (though we shouldn’t let it make us too complacent, either).

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  28. I don’t like the zero sum game, either. But, we’ve been forced into it. In my state, raising taxes requires a 60% super-majority. We voted down a tax on “rich people.” Every legislative leader (especially after the failure of the tax initiative) has given up paying even the slightest lip service to any possibility of raising taxes.
    So, here, we do talk about funding special needs v music classes (though, of course, special needs funding is required by law, while music classes aren’t). In the end, I will advocate for funding the special needs classes, but I’ll also send my own kids to a school where they can get music too. I’d be happy to pay taxes for both, but my community isn’t willing to. Interestingly, it is a side effect of state-funding of schools. Our urban school might be able to generate funds, but can’t.
    I know someone who refuses to have the zero-sum discussions, but, I think when you refuse to discuss, the politically most vulnerable population looses, and so I’m willing to have the Sophie’s choice discussion, to try to weigh in for the politically vulnerable. When comparing music to special needs, special needs wins where it needs my advocacy. I am less sure where to throw my voice, though, when the special needs is being weighed against the poor children’s program.

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  29. When comparing music to special needs, special needs wins where it needs my advocacy. I am less sure where to throw my voice, though, when the special needs is being weighed against the poor children’s program.
    In the long term on that road, you no longer have the middle class in the public schools. They’ll send their children to schools “where they can get music too.” Middle-class parents will not sacrifice their children’s futures.
    Because, I’m sorry: life-saving services for a disabled kid or life-changing services for an autistic kid aren’t really on the same playing field as harder math for Johnny.
    And that’s why my children are no longer in public schools. Every parent has a duty to guard his child’s best interests. Every parent places a priority on her own children’s education, at the expense of others.
    Education itself is a life-changing service. Our local system has for some time spent 300% more per student on Sped services. If the cost to educate each student is X, the cost per special ed student is 3X. At some point, it becomes silly to hang around begging for scraps, if other options offer a better education. If your child starts to hate school because it’s boring, you must act.

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  30. Am I the only one who still thinks my kids are getting an excellent education in the public schools? (I’m in the Midwest…maybe we are behind the curve here?)
    Yes, we supplement with private music lessons, family outings to museums and the like…and it’s certainly not perfect. But they are thriving.
    I suppose I’d sing a different tune if my kids hated school or were bored, but I have such a problem framing the discussion as putting my own child’s education above the education of the rest of the community. I’m trying hard to fight for education funding/opportunities for ALL kids.

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  31. “. Our local system has for some time spent 300% more per student on Sped services. If the cost to educate each student is X, the cost per special ed student is 3X. At some point, it becomes silly to hang around begging for scraps, if other options offer a better education. If your child starts to hate school because it’s boring, you must act.”
    I’ve made the same choice as Cranberry, for the same reason (that I didn’t want to fight for scarce resources for my child). But, I see this ratio calculation as irrelevant to my decision making. My problem was that X wasn’t high enough, not that there were some children who needed 3X to be adequately served.

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  32. PS: I think our public schools are fine, and I know many kids like my own who are thriving in them.
    “You know who’s the most pissed off schools? Ever talk to a parent of a high school student with mediocre grades?”
    And, that’s so easy to fix.

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  33. Laura said:
    “Well, the public schools are already skimming, if they are pushing out parents that have kids that don’t fit the norm.”
    That’s an interesting point.
    “If we had never gone to Iraq, every special ed kid in the US would have a gold-plated education.”
    Is it really true that pre-2003, every special ed kid in the US was getting a gold-plated education?
    “Perhaps we should raise taxes more on rich people.”
    Isn’t that already the NE model? Doesn’t it increase the volatility in the system, given that rich people have disproportionately have incomes that rise and fall very dramatically during good and bad times, leaving the state holding the bag in bad times? You can point to a guy making $10k and say that he loses 100% of his income when he’s unemployed. Certainly he is objectively suffering more than someone more affluent, but his loss in income matters far less to the government than it does when a guy who used to make $300k drops well below six figures in income. (This happened to a lot of mortgage brokers and housing industry types after the housing bubble burst, and those jobs are not coming back in any numbers in our lifetimes.)
    Countries who have fat social programs do it by taxing the heck out of everybody, not just “rich people.”
    In at least some areas of the NE, maybe the softest target is teacher contracts. The next time contracts come up for renegotiation, bargain harder and get more teachers for the same money. I’d also suggest offering higher beginning wages and flattening out the wage scale, to make the job more attractive. Also, whatever that Cherry Hill teacher is getting paid, there are 10 unemployed teachers better than her that would do the job for less.

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  34. I agree that having the services I’m talking about means we have to tax more than “rich” people. I will note, though that those who make over 500K or so are paying less in taxes than they were in 2001 and that when people talk about rich, they mean people making over 200K or so, and that’s not as volatile a population.
    The volatility is a significant issue for states that have to balance their budget but isn’t as big a deal for the federal government which can weather the volatility, as long as the revenue sources are, on average, big enough to cover outlays.

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  35. “The volatility is a significant issue for states that have to balance their budget but isn’t as big a deal for the federal government which can weather the volatility, as long as the revenue sources are, on average, big enough to cover outlays.”
    The UK just had two quarters of slightly negative growth. The BBC headline says, “UK economy in double-dip recession.”
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17836624
    If we’re headed in the same direction, we in the US may also need to get used to the idea that there isn’t going to be a sudden rebound in federal tax revenue anytime soon. I wouldn’t count on things getting substantially better soon.
    “At the current rate of job creation, the U.S. unemployment rate will not fall back to “normal” levels – below 6% – until 2023.
    “Through most of this year [2011] the U.S. economy has managed to create about 119,000 jobs per month, but that’s barely enough to keep pace with population growth. Only job creation levels of well over 120,000 jobs per month will drive down the 9.1% unemployment rate.”
    http://moneymorning.com/2011/11/04/job-market-wont-normalize-until-at-least-2023/

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  36. Coming in late to this conversation as I’m in China (and thus 12 hours ahead of the US), but I really struggle with this issue. I sat on our town’s finance committee and know our school department’s budget pretty intimately. Because we need voter approval to increase taxes (which never happens), we’ve had to cut arts, music, foreign languages, etc. But I also know there are at least 3 kids in our district (we do a really good job of providing services for kids with special needs) for whom we spend over 200K each year – for each child. I have a hard time seeing what the right thing to do is. On the one hand, I firmly believe that we need to do a better job of providing for kids with special needs. On the other hand, where is the upper limit? Can we provide say only 100K per student each year? That would give us an extra 300K – enough to hire a music or art teacher for each of our elementary schools or restore languages to our middle schools. It shouldn’t be either or, but unfortunately right now, it is, and I don’t know what the solution is – I wish there was an easy one.

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  37. I haven’t read all the comments since my long posting earlier. I intend to. (I had a doctor’s appointment and parenting responsibilities. I do expect to read the rest of the comments when I can this evening and contribute.) It’s possible that the point I’m about to make has already been made. Still:
    “I just can’t see us ever saying, “Sorry kid in a wheelchair, you can’t go to public school because we can’t afford the access doors/ramps/elevators.” So how can we justify denying services for a kid with down syndrome or autism?”
    I think this isn’t quite a fair comparison. The wheelchair ramp will serve ALL the kids in wheelchairs. The one-on-one aide will serve one student. There is a comparison to made, of course, between students with physical challenges and students with developmental challenges. But I don’t think the “we have to build a ramp/elevator/wider doors” infrastructure problem is the same as the “we have to hire specialized staff” problem. The infrastructure is expensive and was designed for one population’s needs, but it serves more than one student. And it endures. And other students will temporarily need it, or greatly benefit from it, too, as they break ankles, have foot surgery, whatever. The wider doors will make it easier for the science teachers to move experimental apparatuses into and out of their classrooms/labs. The elevator will help all the teachers move large/heavy objects more easily and allow resources to be put on carts and wheeled around the school, rather than being duplicated on different floors.
    In contrast, the yearly salary of aides buys their work for one year, and frequently for one student. Their time is fundamentally different, a consumable quantity rather than a piece of infrastructure.
    I don’t mean that students with special needs shouldn’t receive public education! I just don’t think that it’s clear where the line should be drawn, in balancing the needs of multiple populations. Some have large needs but are a small population. Some have moderate needs but are numerous. It isn’t an easy decision, where to put the money.
    There’s something to be said for economies of scale, for putting the highest-need kids in the same school, where services can be concentrated, where procedures can be in place to accommodate the students’ needs. (My sister-in-law was recently injured when she unknowingly, on a school visit, stepped within one developmentally-disabled teenager’s extraordinarily large zone of personal space. There were staff on hand who stopped his assault immediately; they knew what to do. She walked away, but with whiplash. The student was uninjured.)
    There’s also something to be said for inclusive education, for universal design in lesson planning. For scalable projects that challenge the most gifted of students yet offer scaffolding for those who need it most. It’s bloody hard work, as I see in my spouse on a daily and weekly basis. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.
    There are some things we absolutely owe to learning-disabled, physically-disabled, developmentally-disabled kids. I don’t think a blank check is one of them, though.

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  38. For what it’s worth–I would view literacy specialists, who help kids reading below grade level for whatever reason–illness, poverty, dyslexia, etc., as a great resource for a large body of students, even if it’s clear that the students with a long-term (neuro-atypical) reading challenge will benefit most from that resource. Resource allocation needn’t be identical to be reasonable; some students do need more support (or more expensive support, at least) than others.
    My concern is not that resources are going to special populations within the school. My concern is that legally, one population’s needs are protected to the extent that yes, 3 students can consume financial resources that would have given a middle school instruction in a second language. No one else’s needs are untouchable. The social studies class will have to stick with textbooks that are decades old. The science class will have online lab simulations rather than actual dissections or projectile launches or titrations. No one will learn French or German or calculus.
    That kind of trade-off is exactly why, yes, parents with means to do so move out of public districts and take their tax dollars with them. If there’s no recourse–parents of typical kids can’t sue the school about failing to offer science labs, can they?–other than leaving, of course they leave.

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  39. This is a really interesting discussion and I thank all involved for their posts.
    I think that the ability of mobile devices to film and record sound is having some surprising ramifications. Misconduct by public officials is regularly being exposed through the omnipresent electronic eyes and ears. The Agitator blog, devoted to exposing such misconduct, has regular stories about the police being taped and their attempts to evade such scrutiny. (Warning: Reading this blog will make you lose faith in America. Whatever you had left of it.)

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  40. KD, I don’t think anyone is advocating a blank check for special needs kids (or any one group).
    (And the parents in my district did sue for more services for gifted/talented. And won:
    http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/education/article_9eaa60fa-75db-11e0-a2a5-001cc4c03286.html )
    I don’t have any answers, I’m just disturbed by the assumption that all the middle class parents are fleeing public schools because of all those greedy special-ed families. Is that really true?
    For me, the recourse is to get involved – go to school board meetings, lead the PTA, understand the district budget and advocate for better school financing systems and equitable distribution of resources.

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  41. KD said:
    “The wheelchair ramp will serve ALL the kids in wheelchairs.”
    Or even teachers in wheelchairs. One of my two best high school teachers has serious health problems, and by the end of his public school teaching career, he was on wheels. (He still teaches now, despite serious disability, but in the local community college, and is an excellent colleague to one of my relatives.)
    “There’s also something to be said for inclusive education, for universal design in lesson planning. For scalable projects that challenge the most gifted of students yet offer scaffolding for those who need it most.”
    There’s a limit to this being feasible, particularly with larger class sizes. I can’t help but notice that the nearly universal gripe among K-12 teachers is the enormous range of skill levels that they are expected to handle in the same group. Why do we inflict this on teachers? No wonder they’re demoralized.

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  42. I agree that while this may be happening in some school districts, I have never heard it mentioned as a reason for switching schools among the middle-to-upper-middle-class parents in our current school, which is an excellent public urban elementary school (yes, they exist!). What people mention is class size, as well as the lack of “frills” like music, art, field trips, textbooks and science supplies. There are certainly special-ed students at this school–there are a few in my daughters’ grade with personal aides, for example.
    Class size is also the reason why scaling assignments to reach every possible student is near impossible–I know teachers who have 30-35 students in their classes with a possible range of 6-7 grade levels as far as skills and comprehension.

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