July 07, 2006

Well, Isn’t That Special?

It’s no exaggeration to say that labeling a child “disabled” and putting him into Special Education is going to significantly alter the course of his life. Surely in making such an enormously important decision public schools wouldn’t be driven by … greed. Would they?

Greg Forster (Ph.D. in political science from Yale) answers that question in an article I commissioned for this month’s issue of OCPA’s Perspective and which also appears today in The Oklahoman (“A shameful ‘bounty system’”). Forster's article is online here. Here are some highlights:
Special education enrollments have been growing dramatically, in Oklahoma and nationwide. In the United States, 10.6 percent of all public school students were classified as disabled in 1991. By 2004, that figure had grown to 12.5 percent.
The growth of special education has been even faster in Oklahoma. In 1991, 10.9 percent of Oklahoma public school students classified as disabled. But by 2004 it was a whopping 14.2 percent, or about 87,000 students.
There's no plausible explanation for why the real occurrence of disabilities would have gone up during this period. Growth has been heavily concentrated in the "learning disabilities" category, while the "mental retardation" category has actually been shrinking. If there were a medical or environmental cause for the huge rise in learning disabilities, it should also be causing growth in mental retardation, but no such growth is occurring.

We have to conclude that additional children are being put into special education even though they aren't really disabled. Why would schools do this?

The only answer that's consistent with the evidence is the influence of financial incentives. … Schools are rewarded with additional funding every time they diagnose a student as disabled. Some education bureaucrats actually call this "the bounty system," because schools get paid a bounty for each diagnosis. … Everyone would like to think that diagnosing a child as disabled is too important for motives like school budgets to be driving it. But there's strong evidence confirming that this is exactly what's happening.
Slotting kids into Special Ed just to make a few extra bucks. As Dana Carvey's Church Lady might ask, "Well, isn't that special? Who could be behind such a scheme? Could it beeee ... Satan?"

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