Feb 4, 2018, VT Digger: Struggling Vermont students could be better served for less, studies say https://vtdigger.org/2018/02/04/struggling-vermont-students-could-be-better-served-for-less-studies-say/ Vermont students needing special education could be better served for less money, according to two studies state legislators will be using in upcoming efforts to craft new approaches to providing special education and to funding it. The studies, both commissioned by last year’s legislature, were done by the University of Vermont and by the District Management Group, a Massachusetts-based consultancy specializing in improving public education. The UVM study, which focused on funding, found that while Vermont is similar to other New England states in the number of students identified as needing special educational help, the state spends more per special ed student than any other state in the nation. The District Management Group study, of special education practices in Vermont, found that changes in how schools identify and meet the needs of struggling students — earlier intervention, and employing more highly skilled teachers — could improve student achievement without increasing the cost. … University of Vermont researchers found that the state pays, on average, an additional $22,000 per special education student per year, twice what it would be paying if the state were more in line with national estimates. But the authors of the report also said what the state is paying is appropriate for what is happening in the classrooms. … “These are our most vulnerable … students,” Kolbe said in an interview with VTDigger. “If there is any indication we should reduce spending on that population we should do that very carefully to meet our legal obligations to these students.” … UVM’s Kolbe said misidentification is not “rampant,” but it is a potential downside of the current reimbursement system…. The group studied educational practices in ten Vermont supervisory unions, and found that nearly 40 percent of all elementary students are struggling to read, and their teachers feel “ill-equipped” to help them. The group found that classroom teachers rely too heavily on paraprofessionals, many of whom lack the teaching background and/or experience needed to be effective. Testifying to the legislature earlier in January, Levenson said improvements to general educational instruction at the elementary school level would improve outcomes overall. … The authors of the DMG report were critical of the wide use of paraprofessionals, and stressed the need for “highly skilled teachers,” especially for those students with the greatest needs. The report also referred to the growing need for experts in behavioral management, as more and more students come to school suffering from trauma, and with social and emotional challenges.