Does Special Ed do any good, and other items of interest

A study on the genetic correlates of empathizing and systematizing with different psychiatric conditions found, unsurprisingly, that autism correlates a bit more with systematizing than empathizing, but interestingly also found the genetic correlates of both empathizing and systematizing correlate with schizophrenia:


I’m not really sure how this works, but I’ve never bought into the “autism and schizophrenia are opposites” theory. Too many people seem perfectly capable of getting diagnosed with both conditions at once. Indeed, the stereotypic schizophrenic delusion is filled with science fiction tropes (telepathic communication, UN black helicopters, subdermal tracking devices, perpetual motion machines, etc.) that are far more familiar systematizers than empathizers.  

The authors note that the anorexia correlation holds even after you control for sex.


One suggestion for dealing with deepfakes and authentication: blockchain:

So let’s say we create an image. How can we set things up so that we can prove when we did it? Well, in modern times it’s actually very easy. We take the image, and compute a cryptographic hash from it (effectively by applying a mathematical operation that derives a number from the bits in the image). Then we take this hash and put it on a blockchain.

The blockchain acts as a permanent ledger. Once we’ve put data on it, it can never be changed, and we can always go back and see what the data was, and when it was added to the blockchain.

Does special ed do any good? Looks like no:

The purpose of the current study was to compare the adulthood outcomes of children who received special education services with those who did not, using one-to-one match propensity score methodology. Our analyses revealed that Hispanic students showed evidence of benefitting from special education, in terms of reporting better physical health and less family conflict, compared to non-Hispanics. Despite this, the majority of results suggest that individuals who were born between 1980 and 1994 and received special education services did not differ on adulthood outcomes across educational attainment, social adjustment, economic self-sufficiency, and physical health, compared to individuals with the same likelihood of receiving services who did not receive services. In other words, children who received special education services did not fare better than children who were equally likely to have received services, but did not receive them.

Note that they compared kids who were equally qualified for special ed but just either did or didn’t receive services, and found no meaningful difference between them (excepting Hispanics.)

The finding that it does something for Hispanics might be a version of the middle-aged-Hispanic-woman-syndrome (that is, if you divide your data into enough categories, by random chance one of them may look significant but really isn’t) but I think it more likely that it’s because this special ed amounts to extra English practice at a critical time in the child’s life, allowing ESL kids to learn faster and adapt to the otherwise English-speaking classroom faster, putting them ahead of peers who learned English more slowly and so fell behind in school.

That special ed does very little useful (though it might be more pleasant for some of the folks involved) than certain alternatives is rather disheartening, especially given the expense. According to the NEA: 

The current average per student cost is $7,552 and the average cost per special education student is an additional $9,369 per student, or $16,921

According to DisabilityScoop, 6.7 million kids are in special ed, for a cost of about 62.8 billion dollars. 

Of course, the study is on kids who went to school in the 80s and 90s, and special ed might have improved since then, but I see no reason to assume it has. That is a LOT of money for no improvement, money that could have gone toward better playgrounds, more art supplies, less crowded classrooms, or just stayed with the taxpayers.

It should come as no surprise that I think the best place for most kids who qualify for special education is at home (since I am homeschooling my own children), where they can get their entire education individually tailored to their exact strengths and weaknesses.

Too many smart (or average!) kids who don’t fit within the school environment–boys who are wiggly or immature, girls who are spacey and distracted–get labeled as “disabled” and then pushed pushed pushed to perform the necessary school-related behaviors, rather than simply put into a different environment where these behaviors become irrelevant and they can focus on learning.

School itself is a fairly recent institution, based largely on the German model. It was not created by scientists who figured out some optimal way to get students to learn and prepare them for life; it’s just a particular system that we happen to have, and some kids are not suited for it.

Unfortunately, most educational interventions, in the long run, don’t do very much. The standard stuff, like teaching a kid to read and write, does a ton. Almost everyone benefits from clear, direct instruction in “what those squiggly lines on the page mean.” And everyone benefits from getting enough sleep, eating plenty of healthy food, etc. Everyone benefits from a loving, peaceful home life (even if it doesn’t show up much on IQ tests.) Everyone benefits from adequate iodine levels and not catching malaria.

Getting beyond these basics, though, is much trickier.

8 thoughts on “Does Special Ed do any good, and other items of interest

  1. Presently teaching my 11-yo autistic son long multiplication & division over the summer. Very impressed that the special-ed teachers drilled the entire 9×9 multiplication table into him. He knows e.g. that 7×7=49, but I’ve told him a dozen times that it’s also 50-1 and he still can’t make the connection. It’s as if he doesn’t know what numbers really are.

    He’s like a computer in that regard, but he also makes a lot of mistakes and won’t adopt habits that might reduce his error rate.

    And even if I could train him into a human computer like Rain Man, what use would it be in a world with one-dollar solar pocket calculators?


      • You mean this?

        None of these tricks impress me because nothing changes the fact that each digit of the multiplicand must meet each digit of the multiplier, the way two sports teams low-five each other before a game, and deposit their products in the correct locations. E.g. 32×56 = 30×50 + 30×6 + 2×50 + 2×6. Squaring is faster because 736×736 = 700² + 700x30x2 + 700x6x2 + 30² + 30x6x2 + 6², and this segues into an explanation of the square-root algorithm. If you can handle negative digits, you may multiply by 300(-4)7 instead of 29967 but this is a corner case that probably isn’t worth the trouble.

        In school my son was shown a 3×5 rectangle with two 1×1 squares attached, and asked to calculate the total area. He got the 3×5=15 part but couldn’t figure out the rest. He’s learning “math facts” as they call it, but actual math might be beyond his grasp. He has the verbal skills of a five-year-old, so you have to skip the theory and just show him what to do.


      • I meant the one with the rectangles. (I’m not so keen on the way it’s done in the Japanese method, though I’m sure it’s fine for people who are used to it.) Sounds like he’s already seen it, though, so sorry for the useless idea.

        Good luck.


  2. Yeah. I think the study of SPed might say more about the quality of intervention resources rather than the intention behind having sped.

    And I’m not entirely sure what the schizophrenic mention is. I work with that population everyday. And I’d say only a certain kind or portion have that “cia” “they put it micro chip behind my eye” etc. manifestation. I think our categories are too broad for what is occurring there.

    And I’m pretty sure schizophrenia doesn’t start to appear until late teens.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It seems like the way the special ed study was constructed would mean they focus primarily on more high functioning kids, which isn’t really where the big money is spent. Of course, what should be done regarding low functioning kids is another question. It seems like it should come out of a different pot of money (probably from a higher level of tax money than the local school budget) since whether you have to go all out for the really low functioning kids is a lot more due to chance. (This is, obviously, assuming we aren’t entertaining options radically different from current tax funding for schools and disabilities…)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. From experience working in special ed in ultra orthodox Jewish schools and in working with my own case-study celiac “ex autistic” son, I’m inclined to say that the best thing to do (for boys at least) is hire random patient people who like kids with a +100IQ and use fail-safe schemes such ‘Toe by Toe’ for reading and ‘Power of 2’ for Maths.

    But in a sense this misses the point. The special needs system is subject to public choice theory as much as anything else. Fixing it is a ‘coup complete problem’. Pretty much everything is a coup complete problem.

    Liked by 1 person

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