Judge: Children Must Fail
Jay P. Greene on the implications of a recent politically correct ruling
Jay P. Greene Mr.Greene is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Instituteís Education Research Office.
have done a lot of crazy things, but recently a federal judge in
Manhattan came up with what just might be the nuttiest idea yet:
mandatory failure for disabled children. Even if itís clear in advance
that public schools canít meet a childís special needs, he says they
still donít have to put him in a better-equipped private school until
theyíve tried to teach him themselves and failed.
federal law, the city must give every disabled child a free and
adequate education. But it doesnít say that every child has to be
taught in a public school; if a childís needs canít be met by public
schools,the city can pay his tuition at a private school.
all public school systems, the city would prefer to use these private
placements only as a last resort. But sometimes the mismatch between
the childís needs and the schoolís facilities is so obvious that
sending him straight to private school is the only reasonable option.
After all, how can you teach, say, a blind child or an autistic child
if you donít have the necessary staff and facilities?
George Daniels ruled that you donít know until you try. Courts canít
say that a public school isnít able to teach a disabled child based on
ďmere speculation,Ē he says. The school must actually enroll that child
and fail to teach him.
1,000 New York City children will lose their private placements.
Imagine it: blind children in classrooms that donít have Braille
materials; autistic children in schools that donít have staff trained
to deal with them; teachers going through the motions with children in
situations where they know they canít succeed. Next, Judge Daniels will
be ruling that until youíve jumped off a building, you donít know if
you can fly.
Any parent knows how
precious every year of learning is to a child.And disabled children are
even less able than regular ones to sacrifice a year of school. So why
does the judge find it plausible that federal law might allow the city
to follow such an outrageous policy?
simple. For years, public schools have trumped up a false story about
the huge financial burden of special education. They want more taxpayer money, so they claim that disabled children are draining vast sums from school budgets.
of their favorite tactics is to complain about how theyíre saddled with
the crushing expense of private placements. Usually theyíll suggest
that affluent parents with slick lawyers are extracting these
placements just because they want to send their children to private
school without paying for it. Swallowing this story, judges naturally
want to find ways to curb the practice.
disabled children in private placement canít possibly be the huge
burden theyíre usually made out to be.They represent only about two
tenths of 1% of both the cityís total enrollment and its total school
spending. And only half of that money goes to children who werenít
enrolled in public schools before getting private placement.
gets better. The average cost of private placement is about $14,400 per
child. That may sound like a lot, but in the New York City school
system, it just isnít. The city spends about $12,000 on each regular,
non-disabled child,and an average of about $25,000 on each disabled
child. So the system may actually save money with private placements.
broader story about schools being burdened by special education is a
myth, too. Most disabled students have relatively mild diagnoses: Half
are learning disabled, and another 19% have speech and language
disorders. The number of children who genuinely cost a lot of extra
money to serve is very small.
those parents with the slick lawyers, while itís easy to find a few
horror stories where courts have ordered super-expensive services,
thatís pretty rare. Schools, not parents, win most of the
special-education court battles. After all, the city has whole teams of
lawyers who do nothing all day but work on school disability cases.
hope Judge Daniels is overturned. Thereís no reason to trap children in
public schools that canít serve them just to prove the point that the
public schools canít serve them. Whatís really draining money from
school budgets isnít private disability placements, itís the
malfunctions in the public system itself.