Public Perception

The perception that educational quality is equated with high levels of services and spending may also drive up costs. Says Lerner:127

It’s like chicken soup—it can’t hurt. The fact that it won’t help doesn’t matter. Everybody is afraid to say that this child doesn’t need this service because the child needs so much. When it comes to providing extra services, there’s the attitude that "more is better."

Lerner says that by providing every service available, schools can never be accused of failing to serve the student. But that attitude, says Lerner, "means educators aren’t looking at results and are unable to differentiate between services that provide some useful benefit to the student and those that don’t." Lerner points to the increase in requirements for psychological counseling services in New Jersey as an example. "The notion that more and more psychological counseling produces results has never been tested. Counseling alone is not going to produce success for the child in the classroom." Yet, because the services are mandated, schools must provide them regardless of their applicability to the individual student. Furthermore, in the absence of outcome measures, parents and child advocates may have an emotional incentive to seek high-cost solutions, says Lerner.

There’s the perception that quality is related to the price we charge. It’s a real problem in special education because outcomes are so hard to measure. It’s easier to measure inputs such as the number of services provided. And the more services you provide, the greater the perception of quality. When you’re trying to cut costs, there’s a perception that you’re not delivering quality.