Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Do Schools Overdiagnose Kids because of Financial Incentives?

Jay P. Greene, author of the excellent book, Education Myths: What Special Interest Groups Want You to Believe About Our Schools--And Why It Isn't So has a column along with Greg Forster at Pajamas Media entitled "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Special Ed Bounty." It's an interesting piece pointing out that schools have a financial incentive to diagnose students as "disabled" and then not serve them.

Take a look if this is a topic that interests you.


Blogger TJIC said...

My mom just retired last year from a career as a special education teacher in NJ.

She has stated for decades that the state's financial incentives push local districts to categorize slow and problem behavior kids as learning disabled, so that they'd getting additional funds.

While this may have benefited her (because it meant that there was always demand for her), she thought it was utter nonsense as a policy.

I agree.

8:57 AM, July 08, 2008  
Blogger Helen said...


It seems so often that schools (and teachers) do what is beneficial to themselves but not what is right for the students. It is much easier to blame the taxpayers and the government (especially a Republican administration) than it is to actually look at what schools are doing to contribute to the problem. Good for your mom for not buying into the policy.

9:12 AM, July 08, 2008  
Blogger HMT said...

If the policy is creating an incentive to miscategoreize kids then the policy is broken. It's easy to blame the administrators and teaches for gaming the system but the real solution is to fix the system not rail on the people living in it.

It's a classic "prisoner's delema". You may decide to take the high road (and be a better person for it), but the person next to you (or next to them...) might not be. The problem will never be fixed if the system isn't fixed.

10:06 AM, July 08, 2008  
Blogger DADvocate said...

Schools do all sorts of things to get the maximum amount of funding available. When schools close due to illnesses, it's more so because if attendance falls below a certain level funding falls also.

The policy makers are to blame. Most administrators are just trying to get as much money as they can for their schools. That is a major evaluation criteria for them.

11:22 AM, July 08, 2008  
Blogger Joe said...

I have a son with mild Asperger's. I was worried about having him see the school psychiatrist for some of these reasons. In the end, my wife and I went ahead and had him fully tested. I was very impressed at how thorough the work was. The psychiatrist didn't write up a boilerplate comments and clearly took a personal interest in my son (who he found particularly unique in many of his behaviors.) In the end, though, he concluded that my son was well adjusted enough that it didn't justify placing him any programs (a conclusion I agree with--yes, he does have problems concentrating, but we've learned to talk to his teachers and staying on top of things.)

11:26 AM, July 08, 2008  
Blogger Jenny said...

Schools do lots of things because of financial incentives. Look at the free and reduced lunch program. If a high enough percentage of students are on free/reduced lunch, the school gets extra money. So the standard of income to qualify is pretty low (er, high).

My family qualifies for reduced lunch even though we own a house and two cars, have cable, cell phones, unlimited long distance, and broadband internet. We eat three meals a day, pay for health insurance, and contribute to retirement accounts. We have no debt except the mortgage. But the government says we are too poor to pay for our children's lunch.

12:04 PM, July 08, 2008  
Blogger Nunyaa said...

The problem is just the same in Australia. The school has the assumption that one of my boys has ODD. Another son his teacher said, will amount to nothing and is on the road to nowhere fast. They are having round the table discussions about these two and have indicated that the "problem" lies in the way I deal with them at home. Funnily enough, one has the same teacher he had two years ago and he exhibited same behaviors. Last year he was almost a model student. The schools favorite way of dealing with them is to suspend them for 11 days a time, which I feel rewards them. I am happy to work with the school but sending them home has proven to be a failed method, they need to look at where the school is going wrong. Strangely, both boys have passing grades, yet they pay little attention or seem to in class, as per the teachers report.

12:09 PM, July 08, 2008  
Blogger Joe said...

The lunch thing drives me crazy. A family of four earning $38,000 a year qualifies for free or reduced lunches. Ever heard of peanut butter and jelly?

3:55 PM, July 08, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Have you seen any recent stats on the breakdown between "disabled" boys and girls? Just curious.

5:35 PM, July 08, 2008  
Blogger Helen said...

P. Rich,

If you are interested in the stats, you might take a look at author Michael Gurian's work, "The Minds of Boys." From his site:

"Boys receive up to 70% of the Ds and Fs given all students, they create 90% classroom discipline problems, 80% all high school dropouts are boys, millions of American boys are on Ritalin and other mind-bending control drugs, only 45% college students are boys, and three out of four learning disabled students are boys!"


6:07 PM, July 08, 2008  
Blogger Helen said...

P. Rich,

Also take a look at the Boys' Project statistics here:


There are some interesting stats:

"For every 100 girls diagnosed with emotional disturbance 324 boys are diagnosed with emotional disturbance."

"For every 100 girls diagnosed with a learning disability 276 boys are diagnosed with a learning disability."

6:15 PM, July 08, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Girls sure seem to make up for the above imbalances when they become women. No pun intended.

6:25 PM, July 08, 2008  
Blogger Helen said...


Part of the problem may be the overdiagnosis of boys for such problems as ADHD when their behavior is simply rambunctious boy behavior--this might inflate the numbers somewhat.

7:04 PM, July 08, 2008  
Blogger Cham said...

I'm sorry I didn't become a special ed teacher. It would be guaranteed beaucoup income dollars and I would get all holidays and summers off. Instead of 38 kids to a classroom I'd only have to be in charge of 5. If I were a special ed teacher I wouldn't bother actually trying to teach the kid anything, I would pay strict attention to the administration and do only what I was told to do. I'd fill out a lot of forms and make sure my students were medicated to within an inch of their lives. I'd receive great bennies and after a few years there would be no way they could fire me.

The kids would love me because it would be easier than regular school, the parents would love me because I would invent diseases that we could blame the bad behavior on, and the administration would love me because I would follow all the rules to the letter. Life would be good.

I know quite a few people that got into special ed teaching and got out of it very quickly, but they actually wanted to teach something to somebody which was their mistake. My methodology would probably turn out better.

8:28 PM, July 08, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Helen. And all I can say is, Good grief! Those are scary and troubling numbers, and I suspect the people who are responsible for creating those data are even more scary and troubling. I am most thankful I don't have children in school, especially male children.

9:02 PM, July 08, 2008  
Blogger Marbel said...

That overdiagnosis of boys has led many families to homeschooling. I've heard and read so many stories of boys who couldn't manage in school thriving in an environment where they weren't treated like defective girls.

10:05 PM, July 08, 2008  
Blogger Eric said...

dadvocate and hmt,

Sorry, but no. Administrators and others who over- or misdiagnose kids into special ed in order to drum up more dollars for their schools should be blamed -- they are defrauding the taxpayers, the students who shouldn't be in special ed, and the ones that should be in special ed but are now have the attention due them diluted by the others.

While one should hope and demand that policy makers should put some controls on the special ed $$ (whereupon administrators and teachers' unions will wail about the paperwork), the decision to misdiagnose in order to get the bucks is made where the rubber meets the road. Taking grossly unfair advantage of the policy is no more ethical than justifying stealing stuff out of your neighbor's house because he left the door unlocked.

10:08 PM, July 08, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, there are children in this world in need of help. Emotional problems can be devastating to an individual. And not necessarily the individual with the emotional problem(s). Physical and mental problems are there for all to see. Lines are drawn as to whether or not an individual is able to function in society. Those standing very close to, either side of, the gray area along that line, need special employers to be able to play the game.

Our government's answers always involve bureaucrats and institutions in need of large sums of money. The ROI is always poor.
Elected individuals change. But the bureaucracies they make remain in place, more deeply embedded as time goes on. The cumulative affect only guarantees it needs more money, day after day.

There is an outfit, Eggleston Services, in my area, that hires and trains folks who are not capable otherwise. They end up with jobs, and earn their own way.
Like alternative fuels, it is not the whole answer. But it helps many. A lot more than any government program in my area does.

My sister has been in special ed for 30 years +. She tries hard to help kids succeed in the programs she is assigned to execute. She has yet to see the end result of any individual child she has taught, for the amount of time she was a particular child's teacher. Meaning, she has no idea if she is truly doing any good or not. But she's in the union, votes democrat, and has her pension coming. She will cap out in pay scale here shortly, which is also around retirement age - hint, hint.
She will take that hint, or bait, as it were.

7:03 AM, July 09, 2008  
Blogger J. Bowen said...

I love the dismal science...

9:55 AM, July 09, 2008  
Blogger Musings from the Smartest Man in the World said...

It seems to me that most of these stats are coming from public schools (duh).

Now my question is this: Why aren't private schools having the same problems with ADD and ADHD boys?

If it's strictly driven my money I can see why public schools would have more issues. But if it's actually the boys or how they are being raised, then it wouldn't matter what school they go to.

2:07 PM, July 09, 2008  
Blogger Jenny said...

One reason that private schools are not having the same problem is that they can push behavior problems onto the public schools.

If a private school has a student that they don't want to deal with, they can kick them out. A public school cannot kick the student out, so they come up with all manner of excuses as to why the student cannot be taught.

It is the same solution although it is manifested in a different way. Get rid of the student.

4:25 PM, July 09, 2008  
Blogger Marbel said...

If a private school has a student that they don't want to deal with, they can kick them out

When I was teaching my homeschooled boy to read a few years ago, I noticed that he was not a conventional learner. After doing some research I figured a few things out, changed things around, and things improved. Anyway, during all this I spoke with a teacher at a small private school about him. This school had a very low student to teacher ratio and was supposedly excellent. The teacher told me that if I was to send my boy there, the school would not be able to help him with his reading problems even if he passed the test to get in at all.

We are soon to have him tested for some learning disabilities and Asperger's characteristics. We were advised not to seek any help from our school district, even though legally they are supposed to give us services if we request them (we support the system via our taxes, of course). Because the kid isn't in the classroom they don't want anything to do with us. I suppose we could fight it but why bother fighting for substandard service; we found someone in private practice to work with us.

5:07 PM, July 09, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We do an awful lot of bitching in here. They do an awful lot of bitching on left wing blogs.

None of us solves a freaking thing, damn it.

By all means, attack at will. But please attack with an answer.

6:43 PM, July 09, 2008  
Blogger Marbel said...

Hey br549, how about this answer? Not completely thought out, not perfect, but this is my dream:

Admit that the American public school system is not doing a great job of educating the public, but mostly only the average portion of it. Get rid of it, cold turkey. Let people keep the property tax money that supports it. There will be some confusion for a period of time, of course. But parents who are currently interested in their kids' educations will find ways to get them educated. Teachers who want to teach will find ways to teach. Oh, there won't be any need for teachers' unions so no more dues for teachers to pay, no more politicians indebted to the NEA. Teachers can get together and start private schools, or teach as independent tutors. Teachers who specialize can advertise as such: ADHD, Asperger's, math, advanced chemistry. (Lots of homeschool groups pool their resources and hire great teachers - retired engineers, scientists, etc - to give classes.) Local community groups and private foundations could probably do a great job of pulling in kids whose parents won't take care of them, and help them get an education relevant to their lives and needs. Some kids will never get a good education - but some kids aren't getting it now. Get the government out of the education business

Of course millions are opting out of the system already, via private schooling and homeschooling. So maybe it will crash on its own. Not in my lifetime, though, I'm afraid.

9:08 PM, July 09, 2008  
Blogger Casey said...

marbel, you're missing the point as well.

The problem isn't necessarily the public school system; it's the fact that the Federal government has pretty much taken over.

Return control to the smallest locality, whether that's a village, township, or small city. That's how it used to be, and that method worked fine for over a century, after free public schools became widespread.

10:46 PM, July 09, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The federal governement is a deeply embedded bureaucracy. It doesn't get any more embedded than that. The two major teachers unions have a strangle hold on the teachers. They, too, are deeply embedded. Elections don't affect any of them. Wanna teach? Better join the union.

Local school boards don't pay attention to the people in their areas because they are controlled and protected by the federal government. Just as the teachers are controlled and protected by the unions.

It's a monster. And it will not obey.

6:50 AM, July 10, 2008  
Blogger Cham said...


They have that system, in many South American countries and the Caribbean. Those that care about their kids send there kids to small cheap private schools. But many parents don't. School becomes an additional expense they feel is unimportant. The young children end up spending their days doing what kids do, forming gangs, finding ways to get into trouble and obtaining money through theft and pick-pocketing. When these kids grow up life doesn't go very well for them.

8:26 AM, July 10, 2008  
Blogger J. Bowen said...

Here's an interesting podcast that briefly (though effectively) deals with the issue of incentives (though in the context of public transportation). What caught my ear was the attention that was given to incentives. It seems hard to believe that something that seems so obvious isn't as obvious to everyone...

5:04 PM, July 11, 2008  
Blogger Marbel said...

Yes, Cham, I know you are right. When I read about kids getting through high school unable to read, though, I wonder if we are really doing so much better. Maybe our numbers of uneducated are smaller.

I don't really have it in for public education. I understand the value of an educated populace. But reforms don't seem to ever do anything. My alternate dream is that people have more choices and can even use a mix of public, private and homeschooling - whatever suits their needs the most. And that there could be a way of eliminating the grade level bind that keeps a child capable of 6th grade "language arts" but only 3rd grade math stuck in 4th grade because of his age. But mass education does not lend itself to such specialization for each child's abilities like that.

9:51 PM, July 11, 2008  
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