Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The End of Special Education Part IV

Social Impact Bonds, aka Pay for Success. Both terms sound so innocuous. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In the special education world, everyone, including Goldman Sachs (yes, that Goldman Sachs), is trying to reduce the number of students who are formally classified with a learning disability. As we have just celebrated 40 years of IDEA and its success at requiring all children have a free and appropriate education, programs like Pay for Success, are especially heinous.

While there are a fair number of studies on the impact of high quality pre-school on the number of students who later do not need special education services. The range of success is varied, but still a 10-50% reduction is really big. It does makes sense to support high quality preschool. What doesn't make sense is for Wall St. to fund those pre-school programs with the aim of making money off students NOT being classified.

This has already been done in Utah. Goldman Sachs claimed a 99% reduction in "at risk" students being classified. 99%. That cannot possibly be correct. Even if you only use, say, NJ's average of a 14.68% classification rate, that 1%  rate is simply not possible. Goldman Sachs got paid for every single one of the 99% AND they will be paid every year those students are not classified.

Does anyone think, even for a second, that Goldman would enter into a contract where they did not expect to make money? I can't wait to see the long term outcome on this. How many of those kids will actually need services later because they were sold out in pre-school?

Look, I get the public-private partnership idea. In some cases, it may make sense. However, when public education is involved, in our current climate of selling it off to the highest bidder, while looking for some magic pill to "fix" everything, literally selling out our special needs (any!) kids is not acceptable.

And yet, Pay for Success may be here to stay because it is included in the rewrite of ESEA. We've been given about 48 hours to review the entire document before it goes to a vote in Congress. The very first thing I did was a search for the Pay for Success term. And, sure enough, it's in there.

Let me channel my inner Nancy Reagan: Just say NO to ESSA.

We need time. We need educators and parents to weigh in on the rewrite. We need to be sure that this law is supporting public education for all children in this country, not Wall St. firms, not charter school companies, and not testing companies.

Our children deserve so much better than this.

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