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CRE Reader Reports on Serious Data Quality Problems with Department of Education Information Related to Special Education
A retired member of the Professional Advisory Board to a chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Association recently wrote to CRE to make the Center and its readers aware of serious deficiencies in the quality of information issued by the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) related to special education data, which this official labels as "blatantly inaccurate." Much of this bad information continues to be used by the Department in making regulatory and policy decision, despite the fact that these information problems were cited in studies issued by the Department's own Inspector General. If such reports are indeed true, this is just the type of situation that Congress intended the Data Quality Act to remedy.

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  • Guest Column Submission:

    Data Quality Problems with Department of Education Information Related to Special Education


    Dee Alpert


    Tourette Syndrome Association


    Retired Member, Professional Advisory Board, LI Chapter

    As a past, retired member of the Professional Advisory Board of the LI Chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Association, I analyze public education, and especially special education data, as a hobby. The U.S. Dept. of Education's [USDOE] special education data supplied to the public is blatantly inaccurate and based on states' data which is often intentionally inaccurate and sometimes obviously falsified. However, although USDOE is well aware of this (including its own Inspector General studies), it continues to publish this data and make statutory regulatory and policy recommendations based on it.

    There is a lot of "official" evidence, i.e., studies by State Controllers/Auditors showing that the main federal disability-education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has NOT, in fact, improved the proportion of disabled students graduating high school with any kind of credentials at all. Conversely, there is a lot of reason to believe that the billions we spend on disabled students as per the IDEA have had no effect whatsoever on disabled high school drop out rates and may have actually increased them.

    The National Commission on Disability did a study of USDOE's enforcement of the IDEA, published in 2000, which concluded that USDOE either did not actually enforce the IDEA or enforced it so poorly that there had been no meaningful improvement in states' compliance in 20 years. In reply, USDOE stopped publishing IDEA monitoring reports at all for New York State, the state that the Nat'l Commission on Disability found had the worst IDEA record - improved on zero items in 20 years of USDOE monitoring efforts.

    The IDEA is up for reauthorization at this time and is the subject of a serious and contentious debate in the Congress, White House and a variety of other fora. Unfortunately, the data that USDOE has produced, and which is widely relied upon in the debate, is, to be charitable, not worth the paper it is written on (or the electrons used to transmit it digitally).

    Again, the conclusion that the data is nonsense is drawn primarily from state and local governmental and semi-official organizations' studies which focus on, or deal tangentially with, the accuracy of public school attendance data, especially that for disabled students.

    For example, the NYC Board of Education appears to have a disabled high school student drop out rate of 66%, based on its own published studies: the NYS Education Department publishes a disabled student dropout rate of less than 15% for New York City.

    Since the USDOE does not audit, monitor, or meaningfully regulate public school districts' and states' expenditures of federal funds, which run into the billions squared per year, the possibility of fraud, due to the data inaccuracy, is also present and of great concern.

    It is important that the USDOE be required to clean up its statistics (and thus force states to clean up their statistics) regarding the public education outcomes for disabled students before the IDEA reauthorization effort is concluded this year.

    Related Readings

    U.S. Department of Education Office of the Inspector-General Studies on the Inaccuracy of Education/Special Education Data Submitted to USDOE by State Education Agencies

  • Click to review USDOE OIG Study #1
  • Click to review USDOE OIG Study #2
  • Click to review USDOE OIG Study #3
  • Click to review USDOE OIG Study #4
  • List of Recent School District Audits by the New York State Department of Education Which Found Serious Problems with Dropout and/or Attendance Data Validity

  • Click to review NYS DOE Audits