"Many kids are unjustifiably tagged as disabled when their schools get a financial "bounty" for every diagnosis."Web Link
Here’s the backstory: Special education enrollments grew dramatically after the federal special education law went into effect in 1976. Then, 8% of all public school students were classified as having a disability.
By 1990 it was just under 11%. The growth accelerated throughout the 1990s, and by 2000 it was over 13%.
The growth seems to have tapered off in the early 2000s, but the over 50% increase in the percentage of students called “disabled” remains.
Most states provide funds for special education based on the number of students in special education programs.
That is, they provide schools with a financial incentive to label more students as disabled.
Several of the state special education officials we spoke to while gathering data for our study actually referred to this as “the bounty system,” because schools get a bounty for each diagnosis.
Under current law, any student who shows signs that he is capable of performing better in the classroom than he actually does can be labeled as learning disabled.
And naturally, students can be performing behind their potential if they’ve had an inadequate education, or for other reasons.
Technically they’re not supposed to be diagnosed if their underperformance can be attributed to poor teaching or other non-disability factors, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
So if students are being classified as disabled for reasons other than their actually having a disability, learning disabilities is the category where you’d expect it to happen.
And that’s the category that’s exploding.
A lot of people really, really don’t want to hear this. But the data are what they are.
If even an eighth of all special education students are only there due to funding incentives — and our data suggest that’s a very conservative estimate - that’s about a million children.
We need to get beyond baby steps and adopt serious reforms aimed at protecting their interests, as well as improving education for all special education students.