Controversy Swirling Around the Fordham Report on Special Education

Recently, members of the PresenceLearning team had the opportunity to attend a discussion of the Fordham Report at the Urban Leadership Collaboration. Discussed was the recent report published by The Fordham Report, “Boosting the Quality and Efficiency of Special Education.”

The report’s starting assumption is that something is very much amiss with special education, that we are spending way too much per child and getting way too little for our efforts due a lack of innovation in special education. The culprits? Two things according to the reports’ authors. First, minimal innovation in our schools and how they approach special education.

While public education is never very hospitable to innovation, efficiency, and productivity, special education has generally been downright hostile

Second, legislation such as IDEA that forces educators to focus more on compliance than outcomes.

The report uses a methodology called matched-pair analysis, where it takes school districts that are similiar on a variety of different factors such as socio-economics and compares outcomes based on spending levels, staffing, and the make up of that staffing (professional teachers versus paraprofessional aids). It conclude that – all things being equal – that some school districts are spending more on staffing special education but not getting more for this money. At stake is some $10B in spending on staffing that could be diverted to other educational needs.

Discussions at the Urban Leadership Fall Conference revealed that people exposed to the report – all of whom were leaders in special education – did not understand the matched pair methodology and/or felt it was fundamentally biased. For example, people wondered if universities and communities in some communities might be contributing to better outcomes in districts with lower staffing levels. Putting aside questions of methodology, people felt the report was heavy on criticism and light on specific recommendations as to “what works”. Finally, people noted that the Fordham Report treated Gen Ed and Special Ed as unrelated silos, which does not align with the the realities that many school districts are dealing with, where mainstreaming is the norm.

Download the report and let us know what you think.

Hint:  Here at PresenceLearning, we like facts and data, they’re our friends.  The facts and data tell us that innovative approaches to special education – such as live online speech therapy – can drive better outcomes for our kids and help them thrive.  Assemble your own fact pack here and review our research summary.  And  we know IDEA is essential to providing the funding our schools need.


Urban Special Education Leadership Collaboration. The Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative is a network of special and general education leaders working together to improve outcomes for students with disabilities in the nation’s urban schools. It’s members are among the largest and most influential school districts in the United States. To learn more visit their website at: