NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Special Education Costly, Ineffective

December 20, 2001

Because of federal mandates, special education is both costly and ineffective in serving a rapidly rising population of students with special needs. Consequently, a major overhaul of special education is needed to ensure that the original goal of offering an appropriate education for all children is achieved, while helping integrate as many as possible into the mainstream.

One of the major factors contributing to the failure of special education has been its rampant growth.

  • In 1999-2000, 6.1 million children ages 3 to 21 years were found eligible for special-education services and accommodations, up from 3.7 million in 1976-77 - an increase of 65 percent.
  • Furthermore, 12.8 percent of the resident student population received special-education services and accommodations in 1997-98, compared to 8.3 percent of the resident student population in 1976-77.
  • In 1991, the Department of Education issued a "policy clarification" indicating that children diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may be eligible for special-education services and accommodations under the "other health impaired" category of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  • Also, many suspect some school districts place non-disabled but low-achieving students into special-education classes in order to obtain state and federal funds that are available only after a child is identified as disabled under IDEA.

Observers say our approach to disabilities must be reformed so that the principle of equal access to education translates into better practical results for students with special needs.

Source: Wade F. Horn and Douglas Tynan, "Revamping Special Education," Public Interest, Summer 2001.


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