K-12 Officials Blaming Special Education is Sort of Like Me Blaming Cookie Monster

Let’s admit it. None of us likes to take the blame, including the things we really are responsible for. And many times there are easy targets for those of us who like blame-shifting.

One of my favorite education policy people, Dr. Jay Greene, put up a great post a couple days ago that is really worthwhile reading, titled “Blaming Special Ed”. In the post, he deconstructs the widely-held myth that special education is to blame for the lion’s share of increasing K-12 costs in recent decades:

Blaming special ed is easy. Most attempts to blame special ed don’t even bother presenting data or make the most crude use of data to support their claims. Reporters simply accept assertions from school and state officials without question. Folks accept the blame-special-ed-story so easily because — well, to put it bluntly – it is a a widely held but unstated prejudice. People quietly resent special education because they fear that it is short-changing their regular education students. They assume that money spent on disabled kids is necessarily money taken away from general education. They can’t imagine that resources for general education have also increased at a very rapid clip even as special ed costs have risen.

School officials — people who should know better — play upon this popular prejudice to rationalize their failures. They would never dare blame the programs that have been created or expanded in the last three decades for the education of poor and minority students. Those programs also cost quite a lot of money. No, school officials choose to blame special ed because it seems like blaming fate….

Using some back-of-the-envelope math, Dr. Greene suggests that “special ed may only account for about 14% of the increase in the teaching workforce,” and thus for the rising costs in public schooling. Even after adjusting for inflation, the U.S. spends more than twice as much per pupil than 35 years ago. During that time, student performance has essentially remained flat.

Blaming special education would seem to be the easy way out. Just like me blaming the Cookie Monster for the extra peanut butter cookies I took from the jar, or blaming my sister for being there so I could hit her. Upon further reflection, they aren’t very good excuses at all.