Archives for category: Special Education

Who stands up for the neediest, most vulnerable children in Chicago? Not Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Not the Mayor’s hand picked Board of Education. Not the Superintendent Forrest Claypool, who imposed what he himself calls “unconscionable” cuts to special education.

Who stands up for the children? Educators.

Principal Troy LaRaviere (who was previously warned by CPS about speaking out too much) describes here the principals’ revolt, and the CPS officials’ sneaky effort to announce the cuts in a Friday afternoon (when they would get minimal media attention), with only one day to appeal.

If this what reformers stand for? Hurting defenseless children?

LaRaviere writes:

“Whenever I try to take a break from writing about CPS to focus on other aspects of my professional and personal life, CPS officials do something so profoundly unethical, incompetent and/or corrupt that my conscience calls me to pick up the pen once more. This time, they’ve targeted special education students. Obscured in the latest round of CPS budget cuts is an unprecedented move to cut legally required special education services. Educators are often asked if a school based budget cut will affect students. The answer is always “yes.” Each person in a school provides a service to a group of students. When CPS decides to cut the dollars that fund a school-based position they are, in effect, taking the service away from students.

“One district official was quoted in the Sun-Times stating, “CPS continues to work with our principals to prepare for these adjustments.”

“Adjustments” is CPS’ latest euphemism for cuts to student services. If they keep it up, they’re going to “adjust” students out of their education entirely. CEO Forrest Claypool often repeats a talking point that the cuts CPS will “have to make” are “unconscionable.” If one thinks the cuts are “unconscionable” then one does not give those cuts a false euphamistic name like “right-sizing.” Yes, that’s the actual term they use to describe their efforts to reduce services to special education students. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, CPS took an additional $13.3 million worth of services from CPS students with their latest “adjustments.” The article includes a spreadsheet detailing the cuts to schools across Chicago. For example, Ogden school lost five special education teachers and three special education assistants, while Austin High School lost two teachers and four assistants.

“Chicago’s mayor and CPS officials often cite the need to “sacrifice” in order to “save money” as a justification for such cuts. However, all too often CPS and City Hall pretend not to see opportunities to save money by making those who can most afford it sacrifice. Instead they turn their avaricious eyes toward those who can least afford it: our students. They didn’t make the banks that swindled CPS out of $100 million sacrifice by suing them to recoup their losses; they prefer to make students sacrifice by increasing their class sizes. They didn’t makes SUPES Academy sacrifice by denying the organization a $20 million no-bid contract; they prefer to make students suffer by cutting their sports programs. They didn’t make the scores of basement dwelling for-profit charter school management organizations suffer (88% of charters are in the bottom half of CPS performance in student reading growth); instead they took funds used to provide programming for students in more successful neighborhood schools. They didn’t make Aramark and Sodexo Magic (an Emanuel campaign contributor) suffer by canceling their custodial management contracts when they failed to keep schools clean; CPS and City Hall prefer instead to make special education students sacrifice by cutting their legally required educational services.”

Where are the lawyers?

The Albany Times-Union published a letter written by corporate reformers who support Common Core, charter schools, and high-stakes testing.

The signatories applaud the idea of giving the Common Core standards a new name. That’ll mollify parents, for sure. Call them New York’s Very Own Unique Standards. Rebranding will fool almost everyone, on the assumption that the parents of the 220,000 children who opted out are dumb and won’t notice that New York’s Very Own Unique Standards are the Common Core! Apparently the trick worked in other states, so why shouldn’t it work in New York?

The shortening of the tests by 90 minutes is a step forward, but it does not really solve the problem of tests that currently are 8-11 hours long. Why should tests require 6.5 hours for an 8-year-old to see if they can read or do math? Even that is way too long.

The corporate reformers are certain that the Common Core standards (aka “New York’s Very Own Unique Standards”) offer a brighter future for the children of New York.

But they don’t explain how children who are English language learners will have a brighter future when 97% of them “failed” the Common Core tests for three years in a row.

How will students with disabilities have a brighter future when 95% of them “failed” the Common Core tests for three years in a row?

How will African-American and Hispanic children have a brighter future when more than 80% “failed” the Common Core tests for three years in a row?

Will they be promoted to the next grade even though they failed the CC test? Will they be allowed to graduate?

If they can’t be promoted, and they can’t graduate because the CC standards are developmentally inappropriate, and the tests have passing marks far above their capacity, why kind of future will they have?

It won’t be bright. What will they be able to do without a high school diploma?


Mike Klonsky reports that Chicago Public Schools is cutting special education.

“Our autocrat at City Hall appears bent on dismembering special education in Chicago by a thousand cuts. SpEd took its first major deep cut over the summer eliminating 500 positions at CPS. More cuts announced late Friday mean approximately 160 schools would lose special education teachers, while 184 would lose aides.”

Let the lawsuits begin. There is a federal law to protect children with disabilities.

Dr. Terri Reid-Schuster writes:

I was disgusted by my IEA President, Cinda Klickna’s, response regarding the low scores soon to be released in Illinois. I sent her the following:

Dear Cinda Klickna,

I was very disturbed to read your recent response to the news that Illinois students’ recent PARCC score test release. You characterized it as something that will improve as teachers get better at the standards and students get more experienced with the test. You could not be more wrong.

First, I am a career Illinois teacher with more than 20 years of experience. I have a doctorate in developmental literacy and currently work as a reading specialist in Oregon, IL. I have been active in my union and am currently serving as OEA president. I vote democrat, and have always been a proud union member. However, now I am doubting whether IEA/NEA really has the best interests of children and teachers at heart. Your recent response has confirmed that.

Here is what you SHOULD have said:

The PARCC test is a capstone of corporate reform efforts to discredit hard-working teachers and school districts. It is a natural progression of developmentally inappropriate and unvalidated Common Core Standards that were written almost exclusively by test publishers whose intentions are to create a market for their “new and improved” curriculum materials, assessments, remedial programs and expensive consulting deals.

The test itself is written several years above the average student’s reading level, it is to be given on unfamiliar computer technology, contains intentionally vague and poorly designed questions with opaque directions, and is excessive in length. Additionally, cut scores were set outrageously high–ostensibly to align with NAEP proficiency levels and completely disregarding the fact that a rating of “proficient” on the NAEP means the equivalent of “A” level work in the classroom.

This is the new and impossible standard Illinois students have “failed” to reach. This is by design, it is absolutely the intention of companies like Pearson who stand to make billions off the misery the CCSS and PARCC are creating. Now politicians can “prove” teachers are lazy and incompetent and point to PARCC scores as evidence, then hand over public dollars to their business cronies and donors for charter schools. Your statement helps that process along by promoting the fantasy that it is possible to improve these test scores if only we numbskull public school teachers would just get up to speed on these dandy new standards.

Please, if you are going to take our money and purport to represent teachers collectively in Illinois, it is incumbent upon you to educate yourself about the reality of the monumental bamboozle that is corporate reform. I recommend Diane Ravitch’s book Reign of Error for starters, and her blog is a daily format for exposing the damaging effects of the move to privatize and profitize education. Todd Farley’s book Making the Grades is an insider’s expose of Pearson’s shoddy test design process and and standardized test-grading mills.

Additionally, I am requesting that IEA not accept funding from Bill Gates or Pearson or any other entity that seeks to destroy public education. Doing so ensures our demise as a profession, and will hasten the dismantling of democracy itself.

Democracy works best when we prepare students to be critical thinkers who are creative problem solvers and question authority–CCSS are preparing students to be obedient worker bees. Ask yourself why students at elite private schools aren’t being subjected to CCSS or PARCC testing? If these standards and tests are so essential to a great education, wealthy parents would be clamoring to have them for their own children. In fact, exactly the opposite is happening. CCSS and unfair, rigged exams like the PARCC are for the unwashed, undeserving poor and middle class.

Cinda, you disappoint me. I am beginning to believe my dues to the IEA and NEA are not money well spent. Please educate yourself and become an advocate for children and teachers in this state. Call out corporate reform for what it is: a blatant profit-making scheme. Stop falling for the slick marketing. Talk to real teachers about their struggles under this brutal and demoralizing test-and-punish regime. STOP looking to “have a seat at the table.” Don’t collaborate and cooperate with those who will destroy the education profession.

If you need real teachers to talk to, I volunteer myself and my colleagues. Thank you for your attention in this matter. It is critical teachers have the informed support of our biggest professional organization.

This teacher teaches children with severe disabilities. She is a BAT. She is conscientious and devoted to her work. She was rated “developing,” which is one step above “ineffective.”

She writes:

“In my career (and this is every year), I am potty training, teaching self hygiene, teaching self regulation, executive functioning, how to SPEAK, for God’s sake.

“I teach children how to hold a pencil, write their name, the fundamentals that they need and more. On top of that, I teach a ridiculous curriculum, mandated by NYS, to a self-contained class of what has been Kindergarten through 3rd graders, sometimes all in one class. I have taught class sizes from 12 to 17, when there were only supposed to be 12. This past year, my class was a mix of children with autism, children who are emotionally disturbed and unmedicated, children with speech and language impairments, and children who are learning disabled. In the time they were with me, these children made progress beyond your wildest dreams and that is because of me and my team, not some ridiculous curriculum.

“According to my rating, my teaching was effective and the same went for my state measures. Where I apparently “fail” as a teacher is on my local measure. My children, as described above, were asked to take a writing exam in which they listened to and took notes on an informational text. From there they took their notes and were expected to write a paragraph or more relating to the topic. My children did as they were asked, to the best of their ability, when most came to me in the beginning unable to accurately write their name.

“I am not sharing this to garner sympathy or cry “poor me,” but rather to expose what this profession has become and how discombobulated this system is. I also want others to know that they are not alone when it comes to these ridiculous score adjustments.”

Bianca Tanis is a public school parent and teacher of special education in the Hudson Valley of New York. In this post, she expresses her disgust and dismay that Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch continues to promote the Cuomo plan to make test scores 50% of educator evaluation, while pretending to make meaningless amendments.

Tisch, who has been a Regent for 20 years, assumes that the Cuomo plan will weed out ineffective teachers in high-poverty schools, but fails to suggest how effective teachers will be drawn to these schools. In the past, she has proposed exempting the affluent white suburbs, where scores are highest, from the Cuomo program. She believes that poor children, minority children will benefit if their teachers and principal live in fear of low test scores, if their school eliminates the arts and physical education and social studies to concentrate in test prep.

Tisch dismisses the statement of the American Statistical Assiciation, which warns against using test scores to judge individual teachers, as if it was the opinion of a few individuals.

Over the three years of Common Cire testing, this approach to evaluation has proven to be unreliable and unstable. It is also deeply demoralizing and has contributed to the growing national teacher shortage. This is Arne Duncan’s legacy. It will also be Cuomo and Tisch’s legacy.

This is a fascinating article about the New Orleans Recovery School District, that appeared in the International Business Times.

Which children were left behind? Who benefitted by the expansion of choice to cover the entire district? It describes the special education students who were pushed from school to school. The students who were suspended again and again for minor infractions. The high school graduation rate, still far behind the state rate.

Broader measures show a rejuvenated school system. ACT scores in the state-run district increased from 14.5 in 2007 to 16.4 in 2014, and far fewer students in the majority-black district attend schools deemed failing. The proportion of Orleans Parish high school graduates enrolling in college has grown more than 20 percent since 2004.[ed. note: a score of 16.4 is very low, too low for admission to four-year colleges.]

But parents of children like Jeremiah feel left out. Critics worry that many children, particularly those with behavioral needs, fell through the cracks. And newly available data from independent researchers, corroborated by former district employees, suggest that due to misreporting, official graduation rates may be overstated by several percentage points.

In relinquishing oversight to independent charter operators, former employees say, district authorities lost sight of at-risk students. Under stiff pressure to improve numbers or face closure, schools culled students and depressed dropout rates. And as families muddled through a complex and decentralized system, a sizable contingent of at-risk students may have left the system unrecorded.

“With an open system like that, it’s relatively easy to misreport information and fudge it,” says Clinton Baldwin, who coordinated the district’s student data from 2012 to 2014. “It was definitely something that was prevalent.”

Meanwhile, for the parents of the most difficult-to-teach students, the notion of school choice seemed to become a mirage.

“It’s not what you decide,” Osbey says. “It’s what they decide for you.”

The good news in the article is that the charter leaders are paying attention to the local critics and making changes.

The RSD, facing community pressure, has made substantial efforts to ensure students don’t get pushed out. A new enrollment system allows families to list their top eight picks. A lottery-like algorithm matches kids to schools so no one is excluded.

And a centralized expulsion system, designed in consultation with community groups, has curbed schools’ abilities to dump students for minor misbehavior, such as talking back to a teacher or violating dress codes. The state reports that expulsions dropped 39 percent last year.

“We listened to the community,” says Superintendent Dobard. “Parents have more opportunities now that the district is decentralized to make their voices and concerns heard.”

The efforts of people like Clinton Baldwin and Karran Harper Royal, the special education advocate, reflect a less-recognized current of reform that has characterized the post-Katrina recovery. Though outsiders largely defined the course of institutional reforms, native New Orleanians have made them more equitable.

“Many of the local critics of this system have led to dramatic changes,” says Stone, the head of the reform outfit New Schools for New Orleans.

That’s true in the charter community as well. “I’ve seen a big shift in the last five years,” says Gubitz, the principal at the K-8 Renew Cultural Arts Academy. “We are all listening more.”

Although there are powerful forces who want New Orleans to be a national model for urban districts–fire all the teachers, get rid of the unions, recruit Teach for America, replace public schools with privately managed charters–we should all look more deeply into the consequences of these changes in New Orleans before adopting it in other cities.

For the past few years, the impoverished Chester County public schools in Pennsylvania have been in deep deficit because of competition with charter schools and cyber charters that suck funding away from the public schools.

The biggest charter school is the Chester Community Charter School, founded and operated by multimillionaire Vehan Gureghian, a lawyer and businessman who was a major contributor to former Republican Governor Tom Corbett and a member of his education transition team.

Governor Tom Wolf tried to save the public schools of Delaware County by reducing the exorbitant amount of special education funding that is transferred from the public schools to charter schools and reducing the equally egregious funding of cyber schools. But his plan was rejected by a judge yesterday.

The Keystone State Education Coalition posted these articles this morning, which explain the situation:

“The district pays local charter schools about $64 million in tuition payments – more than it gets in state aid – to educate about half of its 7,000 students.”

Judge rejects Wolf challenge to charter funding


A Delaware County judge ruled Tuesday that the Chester Upland School District must abide by the state’s charter school funding formula and keep paying the charter schools that now educate about half of the struggling district’s students. After a hearing that stretched two days, Common Pleas Judge Chad Kenney said the commonwealth’s plan was “wholly inadequate” to restore the district to financial stability. He also faulted the state and district’s lawyers for failing to provide “meaningful specifics or details” as to how they arrived at the plan. Kenney did approve two smaller requests: He said the district can hire a turnaround specialist and a forensic auditor.

The ruling was a setback for the Wolf administration and the district’s state appointed receiver, Frances Barnes, who had contended Chester Upland schools might not be able to open next week without a change to the formula. It was not clear if they would seek to appeal Kenney’s ruling.

Judge derails Pa. plan for Chester Upland recovery

By Vince Sullivan, Delaware County Daily Times POSTED: 08/25/15, 10:33 PM EDT

CHESTER >> Just minutes after a public meeting with the receiver of the Chester Upland School District ended with an impassioned plea for support of the public school system, a Delaware County judge denied proposals to alter charter school funding which would have eliminated a $22 million structural deficit. President Judge Chad F. Kenney denied portions of a plan proposed by Receiver Francis V. Barnes, with the support of Gov. Tom Wolf and the state Department of Education, that sought to reduce payments to charter and cyber charter schools that educate Chester Upland School District. Barnes was seeking to cap the regular education tuition reimbursement for cyber charter students at $5,950, and to reduce the tuition reimbursement for special education students in brick-and-mortar charter schools from $40,000 to $16,000. Both changes would have been consistent with the recommendations of two bipartisan school funding commissions. Other portion of the plan calling for a forensic audit, a financial turnaround specialist and the delay of a loan repayment were approved.

Chester Upland charters struggle to account for $40,000 price tag for special education


In court Tuesday, charter schools in the Chester Upland district defended their claim to $40,000 in tuition for each special-education student they enroll. According to Pennsylvania’s calculations, the charters need — and, in fact, currently spend — well below that on those students.

The debate about how much money charters need to fulfill federal requirements for a “free appropriate public education” for special-education students is at the heart of reforms proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf and the district’s receiver, Francis Barnes, last week. And it’s at the center of a battle in Delaware County court this week between state and charter school officials.

Witnesses for the state Department of Education said Tuesday that none of the schools claimed spending more than $25,000 per special-education student in annual self-reports.

So what exactly is in that Chester Upland Charter Special Sauce?

Here’s the bottom line on Chester Upland charter school special education funding. Would this have been allowed to go on for years if charter schools were “public” in more than name only and were subject to taxpayer scrutiny on a regular basis?

Right-to-know requests for financial information regarding the operations of Charter School Management Company have been blatantly ignored for years.

“Let’s look at Chester Upland’s special education enrollment, while considering that, in general, special education students diagnosed with autism, emotional disturbance and intellectual disability require the highest expenditures, while those with speech and language impairments require the lowest expenditures.

Special education students on the autism spectrum – generally requiring high expenditures – make up 8.4 percent of the entire special education population at the school district, compared to 2.1 percent at Chester Community Charter School and zero percent at Widener Partnership and Chester Community Schoolof the Arts.

In the emotional disturbance category, another often requiring high expenditures, 13.6 percent of all special education students are categorized as emotionally disturbed in the school district, compared to 5.3 percent at Chester Community Charter, none at Widener or Chester Community School of the Arts.

For the intellectual disability category, the final category generally requiring high expenditures, the school district again serves a much larger percentage of this category: 11.6 percent for the school district, 2.8 for Chester Community Charter School and none for the others.

Conversely, for special education students requiring the lowest expenditures, the speech and language impaired, only 2.4 percent of the school district’s special education population falls into this category, compared to 27.4, 20.3 and 29.8 percent, respectively, at the charters.

Clearly the lion’s share of the need requiring the highest expenditures remains with the school district, but an exorbitant amount of funding goes to charters, where most special education needs can be addressed for comparatively low cost.”

Guest Column: The case for the Wolf recovery plan
Delco Times Letter by Frances Barnes POSTED: 08/24/15, 10:24 PM EDT

To the Times:

This is an open letter from Chester Upland School District Receiver Francis V. Barnes.

This afternoon (Aug. 24), Chester Upland School District and the Pennsylvania Department of Education will appear before President Judge Chad Kenney seeking approval of an amended Financial Recovery Plan to restore financial integrity and balance the books, which is vital for the district and the charter schools it funds. The plan treats charters fairly by not reducing payments made for about 70 percent of charter students, but it does reduce unreasonable special education and cyber payments to charter schools. Reducing unreasonable payments will make the allocation of funds more equitable for all students in the Chester, Chester Township, and theUpland geographical area, regardless of which school they attend. Under the current formula, funds for special education students are not allocated equitably. The district is required to pay charter schools more than $40,000 per special education student, regardless of the actual cost to educate that student, while the district receives less than needed to educate its own special education students.

Here’s Dan Hardy’s coverage of the same issue from 2012:

Chester Upland: State special ed formula drains millions from district

By Dan Hardy, Inquirer Staff Writer
As Delaware County’s financially troubled Chester Upland School District struggles to stay afloat, officials there say they are paying millions more than they should on special-education students who attend charter schools.
School districts pay charters to teach their children, using a complicated formula set by state law. About 45 percent of Chester Upland’s students attend charters.

Chester Upland’s payments are based on the previous year’s expense of educating students in its own schools, minus some costs charters do not incur.

For regular-education Chester Upland students this year, that figure is $9,858 per child.

But flaws in the state charter-school law, district officials say, make payments to charter schools for special-education students much higher, costing Chester Upland about $8 million more than is reasonable.
Chester Upland’s per-student special-education charter-school payment this year is $24,528, more than twice as much as for regular students and thousands per student more than the state average.

The Post and Courier in South Carolina discovered that school choice leaves the neediest students behind. Its investigation of North Charleston High School describes the flight of the most able and advantaged students to “choice” schools. The students with the greatest needs are left behind.

“The school, which should house a diverse group of 1,141 students from across its attendance zone, instead enrolled just 450 this year — and shrinking. Nearly 90 percent of its students are black in an area that’s more than a quarter white, and virtually all left are poor.”

The largest department in the school is special education.

This story, one of a five-part series, focuses on Maurice Williams, a freshman who nearly died because an infection in his brain that led to a blood clot. Maurice lives with his half-sister. No car, no job, little money, no choice. Left behind.

Competition has drained the top students out of North Charleston Hogh. Those who lacked the means are left behind. With fewer resources in a highly segregated school.

A situation caused by a law ironical led named No Child Left Behind. Call it a landmark in resegregating our public schools and leaving behing those children with the greatest disadvantages.

Mercedes Schneider reports that the U.S. Department of Education has issued rules and regulations requiring that most special education students take the same Common Core tests as students who do not have a disability. Schneider predicts that this requirement will add more fuel to the fires of opting out. Where students with disabilities have taken the Common Core tests, very few of them “pass” the test, less than 10%. Will they ever graduate high school?


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