Archives for category: Special Education

Peter Greene watched a video of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan testifying before a Senate committee about the budget. Watch what happens when a Senator asked Duncan about programs in the Department that address the problems of dyslexia.

Greene writes:

Senator Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana) asks a simple question: What specific programs do we have in place for helping students with dyslexia?

And it just goes south from there.

The answer, pretty clearly, is “none.” But Duncan is bound determined not to go there, so he tries, “Well, students with dyslexia have special needs, and we have a special needs fund, so they fall under that–“

Cassidy bores in, citing studies and facts and figures to elaborate on his point which is that students with dyslexia make up 80% of the students with special needs and as much as 20% of the general student population, so wouldn’t it make sense to have programs directed at that particular issue?

Let the flailing begin. I would put together my usual summary-deconstruction of a Duncan word salad, but this is the mouth noise equivalent of a large-mouthed bass thrown up on the creek bank and trying to flop his way back to some water.

Cassidy tries again. Does Duncan have any sense of the quality of dyslexia programs out there? The answer, again, is “no,” but Arne can’t form that word, so instead he starts making up some sentences that boil down to, “I suppose there are some good ones and some bad ones and some in between ones” which is not exactly an insight that required the United States Secretary of Education to deliver it.

Here’s Arne’s problem– he absolutely has an idea about what the approach to dyslexia should be. He’s been very clear about it in the past. Let’s go back to his conference call about new USED special needs policies

“We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel.”

Or the explanation from Kevin Huffman in that same call. These words didn’t come out of Duncan’s mouth, but he didn’t say, “Well, that’s not quite what we mean” either.

Huffman challenged the prevailing view that most special education students lag behind because of their disabilities. He said most lag behind because they’re not expected to succeed if they’re given more demanding schoolwork and because they’re seldom tested.

So, Senator Cassidy, that’s the USED plan– we will expect those students with dyslexia to do better, and then if they don’t we’ll get rid of their teachers and replace them with teachers who are better at expecting things. That’s it. That’s the plan.

But Duncan was smart enough not to say that out loud to a man who 1) has clearly done his homework about dyslexia 2) cares about dyslexia and 3) is a US senator.

CNN ran an excellent segment about the burgeoning opt out movement. It is especially strong in New York, but it is rapidly spreading across the country as parents recognize that the tests provide no information other than a score and have no diagnostic value. For some reason, the defenders of high-stakes testing continue to say that the tests are helpful to our most vulnerable children, who are likeliest to fail the test, because until now we have neglected them. We didn’t really know that they were far behind and now they will get attention. After years of No Child Left Behind, in which no child was left untested, this is not a credible claim. Every child has been tested every year since at least 2003. How is it possible to say that no one knows that special education students need extra time and attention and accommodations? How is it possible to say that without Common Core testing, we will not know that English language learners don’t read English? In New York, we have had two administrations of the Common Core. Five percent of the children with disabilities passed the test; 95% were told they were failures. Three percent of English language learners passed the test; 97% were told they failed. How were they helped by learning that they had failed a test that was far beyond their capacity?

A reader wrote to ask whether the Senate revision of No Child Left Behind would permit states to develop alternate curricula and assessments for students with disabilities, and whether the bill will eliminate Secretary Duncan’s mandate that only 1% of children with disabilities could be allowed alternate assessments.

My inside source on the Senate committee staff told me that the authors of the bill wanted to permit states to have more flexibility but the “disability community” insisted on the status quo. They want all children, except the 1% who are most severely disabled, to take exactly the same tests. He suggested that if there were disability groups and parents who thought differently and who wanted greater state and local flexibility, they should make their voices heard.

In New York, when the first Common Core tests were given, only 5% of children with disabilities reached proficient, as compared to 30% of children without disabilities.

Contact the staff of Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and/or Senator Patti Murray of Washington State if you disagree with the lobbyists who want the stays quo.

In 2010, I visited with Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, who was the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee at that time. Along with Richard Rothstein, we explained the damage that No Child Left Behind was doing to children and education. He responded that “the disability community” loves NCLB. We were baffled.

Edward Placke is Superintendent of the Greenburgh-North Castle Unified School District, which serves students from urban areas who are primarily of African, Caribbean and Spanish heritage. All students are eligible for the federal free lunch program and are identified as disabled, primarily emotionally disabled. He wants the public to know that these students have been shamefully neglected in the state budget, for years.
There is a small yet growing cohort of students in our State that are identified as disabled with significant behavioral and psychological challenges, live in urban poverty and have found little success in their home public schools and other public schools such as District 75 and BOCES. As a result, there are few alternatives for these students. The ten New York State Public Special Act School Districts in our State have traditionally been the sole alternative; student live on the campuses in light of their family situation or commute daily from their communities. They provide a comprehensive education for these students to assist them to cross “The Bridge to Adulthood” with graduation rates that are significantly higher than the State average for student with disabilities. For most it is the last option before leaving school and facing those negative outcomes associated with not earning a high school diploma. Clearly Public Special Act School play a role in educational options for student with disabilities.

The Public Special Act School Districts are funded via a tuition rate in which the methodology is established by the New York State Education Department and all increases are approved by the Division of Budget overseen by the Governor. Four of the last five years the Public Special Act School Districts have not received an increase in tuition. As Teacher Retirement, Employee Retirement, New York State Health Insurance, utilities, materials and supplies have all significantly increased, the support from the Governor and our representatives have not. Our students do not have a voice as do the community school districts and charter schools. We do not have the resources to purchase billboards, run ads in the media and most disappointingly have very little parent involvement and advocacy. Therefore it is our elected representatives in Albany to be the voice for these most vulnerable students. They had an opportunity this week to include the Public Special Act School Districts in the budget to ensure our sustainability but they chose not to and once again ignored the most needy student cohort in our State.

As a former New York State Education Department Assistant Commissioner, public school administrator and teacher for over thirty years I have face a variety of challenges and disappointments. The unwillingness of our so-called representatives to advocate for the Public Special Act School Districts is certainly disappointing but repressible. The message this week from Albany is clear—community public school districts for the most part received an increase in State Aid and the Public Special Act School Districts that educate our most disabled poorest cohort of students were disregarded. My greatest fear based on Albany’s outright disregard for these key public districts and the students they educate is they will not exist in the very near future. At that point there will be a new generation of students. With time running out my only hope is the Governor will have the courage to be the voice for our students.

Jonathan Pelto reports that 70% of students will fail the Common Core test called Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC); the tests were designed to “fail” 70% of students, as is the PARCC test. Both Common Core tests are aligned with the “cut scores” (passing marks) of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP “proficient” is set very high; Massachusetts is the only state where 50% of students rate proficient on NAEP.

Pelto points out that 90% of students with special needs are expected to fail SBAC.

The following letter by Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, appeared in the Wall Street Journal in response to a column by Eva Moskowitz about “The Myth of Charter Cherry Picking” (it is behind a paywall):

 

Mulgrew writes:

 

 

Eva Moskowitz must have been staring in the mirror when she wrote her latest screed about the “big lie” about charter vs. public schools (“The Myth of Charter-School ‘Cherry Picking,’” op-ed, Feb. 9). Even as others in the charter sector are beginning to acknowledge that differences in student demographics and attrition are a real problem in comparing charters to district schools, she and her organization have refused to admit that many charters don’t educate children with the same challenges as do public schools.

 

Let’s look at one among many examples—Success Academy 3 in Harlem. It shares a building with a local public school, but her charter has half as many English-language learners, fewer than a third as many special-education students and no “high-needs” students in the special-ed category versus 12% in the public school.

 

She also confuses student mobility with student attrition. Most schools in poor neighborhoods have high student turnover. But while public schools—and some charters—fill empty seats, Ms. Moskowitz’s schools don’t. According to state records, more than half the students in one Success Academy class left before graduation.

 

While Ms. Moskowitz cites a recent report from the city’s Independent Budget Office about student attrition in charters, she neglects to mention an earlier IBO report that found that it is the less successful students who tend to leave New York City charters. And as Princess Lyles and Dan Clark note “Keeping Precious Charter-School Seats Filled,” op-ed, Feb. 3), failure to fill these seats allows a school to maintain “the illusion of success,” as the percentage of proficient students rises.

 

So when Ms. Moskowitz and her allies claim that charters educate the same kinds of children as do the public schools, who is telling the truth?

 

 

Michael Mulgrew

 

 

Bianca Tanis explains in the AFT publication why high-stakes testing is wrong for children with special needs. She describes a system under political pressure to produce data, where data trumps instruction and the needs of children.

Tania writes:

“I am a special education teacher in New York and a mother of two children on the autism spectrum. Sometimes it is difficult to separate these two roles. Being intimately involved in the education system has made navigating the world of special education for my children easier in some ways, but also infinitely more difficult and heartbreaking in others. Simply put, I know too much.

“When my son began third grade in 2012, it dawned on me that, as required by No Child Left Behind (NCLB), he would soon be mandated to take state tests in math and English language arts, aligned to the Common Core State Standards, despite the fact that he reads at a first-grade level and has numerous challenges with language. I was horrified that my child would undergo such inappropriate testing.

“Unfortunately, since the passage of NCLB in 2002, the practice of compelling all students, including students like my son, to take one-size-fits-all, high-stakes tests has become policy. These tests were originally touted as a way to shine a bright light on educational inequalities based on race, class, and disability. While these tests can have negative effects for many students without special needs, they actually prevent many disabled students in particular from receiving an individualized education that meets their needs. Often, they are subjected to emotionally harmful testing. Many special education teachers like myself have questioned why the practice of administering one-size-fits-all tests to special education students persists when it flies in the face of logic and sound pedagogy. Fortunately, many are no longer willing to remain silent about the flaws in this system.”

She says:

“For the past five years, I have taught students with disabilities from kindergarten to fifth grade in an affluent suburb of New York City. My students have a range of strengths and challenges, and although most are classified as learning disabled, they are extremely diverse in their learning needs.

“As our school and state have embraced the Common Core, it has been challenging to bridge the gap between what my students know and can do and what the standards require. The implementation of the Common Core across all grades has resulted in many students receiving instruction without being taught the necessary prerequisite skills. The situation is especially problematic for students with learning challenges who are sensitive to change and depend on sufficient scaffolding of information and skills to learn. Students struggling prior to the implementation of the Common Core suddenly find themselves significantly further behind.

“The problem has only been exacerbated by the advent of test-based teacher accountability required for states participating in the Race to the Top initiative.1 My colleagues and I have found it increasingly difficult to differentiate instruction for our students while keeping up with the curriculum so they will be prepared to take Common Core–aligned tests. Throw in the threat of a poor evaluation and the loss of teacher job security, and you have a recipe for disaster.

“In an ideal world, if my fourth-graders need to spend an extra week or two working on a math concept, I would use my professional judgment to assess their needs. But as things stand, I am forced to move on, regardless of whether they are ready. There are only so many weeks in the school year, and everything yet untaught in the standards must be packed into the remaining weeks because it will all appear on the test. Rather than a fluid process in which students’ instructional needs come first, teaching has become a marathon to cram it all in. I honestly have heard my colleagues telling their students on the fourth day of school, “We have a lot to do today. We are already behind.” Midyear assessments are given despite teachers not having had the chance to teach all the content that will be tested, because administrators “need the data” to assess whether students are on track for end-of-the-year testing.”

– See more at: http://www.aft.org/ae/winter2014-2015/tanis#.dpuf

Nancy Bailey reports that special education is in jeopardy in Seattle.

 

She writes:

 

You can’t put your guard down. Rest assured the wheels of ugly education reform continue to churn. Here is a recent Seattle Times headline, “Special Education is Ineffective and too Expensive, Report Says.”

 

Why? Well, students with special needs, 54 percent to be exact, aren’t managing to get their diplomas on time. They also aren’t going on to college as much as their non-disabled peers. They fail to always reach their NCLB goals on their IEPs. Students with emotional disabilities, I’m guessing with no real SPED services, are getting suspended 2 to 3 times more often than the students without disabilities. Second language students aren’t being served well, and parents have become concerned that their students won’t be employable.

 

I would argue that the reforms that have taken place since the reauthorizations that formed IDEA, along with NCLB and RTTT, have not been in the best interest of students with special needs across the country. The harsh budget cuts haven’t helped either.

 

But instead of fixing the problems in Seattle, and without reassessing the terrible reforms that have been foisted on schools and students with disabilities for the last 20 years or more, this is what the rubber stamped Blue Ribbon Commission Report from the Governor’s office, came up with:

 

The evidence is clear that disabilities do not cause disparate outcomes, but that the system itself perpetuates limitations in expectations and false belief systems about who children with disabilities can be and how much they can achieve in their lifetime.

 

“System,” of course, implies teachers. Hey, you teachers quit sitting around painting your nails and raise those expectations! And while you are at it—embrace Common Core! Why doesn’t the news say what they all really mean?

 

And this is how the Seattle Times puts it:

 

But the vast majority of children in special education do not have disabilities that prevent them from tackling the same rigorous academic subjects as general education students if they get the proper support, so those low numbers reflect shortcomings in the system, not the students.

 

And where does this all come from? What revolutionary research study have we missed? Arne Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education!

 

You see, with higher expectations and plenty of rigor, most if not all of the students with disabilities can achieve excellent results. And that is where the Common Core comes in: Rigor for all. No exceptions, no excuses.

Katie Osgood is a special education teacher in Chicago who has worked for years with children in high need. She has been critical of Teach for America on her blog for sending inexperienced recruits to work in schools with vulnerable students who should have experienced teachers.

She wrote a comment on this blog today about TFA’s leaked memo on how to respond to critics:

“In TFA’s memo, they cite me BY NAME, as a “known detractor”. So, apparently your tax dollars are also going to spying and unsuccessfully debunking tweets/blog posts from a simple special education teacher in Chicago. I have no media team or PR strategy, I’m just writing the truth of TFA and its devastating impact on my city. I am pretty upset how TFA has singled me out and targeted me. I feel violated and even unsafe given the vast power and resources TFA has at its disposal.”

This is very sad. It was written in response to this post. This is a report on the technocratic data collection about preschool readiness of children with disabilities 0-3. There is not a whiff of humanity in this data collection. What are they thinking in the Tennessee State Department of Education? Does any of this help children? Is it part of Race to the Top? What is the point? What benefit to the children? What am I missing? A reader writes: “Tennessee has been using this measure for 4 years. (I am in no way condoning this) Target Data and Actual Data for FFY 2012-13: FFY 2012-13 was the third full year in which Early Childhood Outcomes (ECO) data (entrance and exit) were collected from all nine TEIS Point of Entry offices (TEIS-POEs). Since FFY 2010, ECO data have been collected in the Tennessee Early Intervention Data System (TEIDS) based upon the seven-point scale of the ECO Child Outcomes Summary Form (COSF). The Lead Agency calculates and reports only on children that have been in TEIS a minimum of 6 months (defined as 183 calendar days between entry [ECO entrance date] and exit [ECO exit date]). Outcome entrance ratings are made by the IFSP team using assessment/evaluation, eligibility, and parent information at the initial IFSP meeting. Statewide, assessment/evaluation information is obtained from the Battelle Developmental Inventory-2 (BDI-2). Outcome exit ratings are made by the IFSP team at a review change or transition meeting for children who have been in early intervention services for a minimum of 6 months prior to exit or at three years of age. Exit data from Part C are utilized by several Local Education Agencies (LEAs) as entry data for children who are determined eligible for Part B, preschool special education services. http://www.tn.gov/education/early_learning/doc/TN_PartC_APR_FFY_2012-13.pdf

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