Archives for category: Special Education

There has been much debate about who wrote the Common Core standards.

Here is a press release that lists the names of the writing teams for each subject as well as “feedback” groups.

You will notice a large representation of people from the testing industry (College Board and ACT), as well as people from Achieve, a D.C. think tank.

Notice that the statement says:

“The Work Group’s deliberations will be confidential throughout the process.”

Notice that the statement says:

“Final decisions regarding the common core standards document will be made by the Standards Development Work Group. The Feedback Group will play an advisory role, not a decision-making role in the process.”

Count how many people on either the writing teams or the feedback groups are identified as classroom teachers. Count how many have any experience in teaching children with disabilities. Count how many are experienced in teaching early childhood classes or English language learners.

Compare that number–whatever it may be–to the number who are experienced in testing and assessment.

Valerie Strauss clearly explains who were the losers in the bruising battle between the billionaires and de Blasio: students with disabilities.

Jersey Jazzman reports on Camden’s portfolio district plan.

What does that mean? More charters.

What is the secret of their success?

Excluding children with disabilities.

Excluding the kids with the highest needs.

Doesn’t federal law prohibit this?

Apparently this is not a priority for the U.S. Department of Education or the Obama administration.

As hedge funders will sometimes acknowledge, those kids are not our problem.

Arne Duncan, Raj Chetty, Eric Hanushek, John King, Kevin Huffman, John White, and Michael Johnston, and the other evaluation hawks did not think about this teacher when they said full steam ahead on evaluating teachers by student scores:

Beth writes:

“As Diane points out, teachers are already, and always have been, evaluated. Here is the problem: I am a special education teacher in an alternative high school. I teach students with severe psychological and behavioral disorders. These students are not exempt, and must take all the same state tests (including Regents) that other students take. My evaluation is based upon what percentage of my students improve their test scores by an amount estimated at the beginning of the year. Because I teach what are called 8-1-1 classes (8 students, 1 teacher, 1 teacher’s aide), my evaluation will be based upon, at most, 16 students. However, at this point in the year, it looks like only 6 of the students I began the year with will still be in our school at the end. This isn’t unusual–students move, get put in residential facilities, drop out, or become chronically truant at a high rate in my school. Of the 6 students left, one has become pregnant and has gone off her meds. Most days she can’t even make it into class because of her emotional breakdowns. One student has been hospitalized for months, not receiving instruction from me. One comes to school about once a week. Two swear at me whenever I try to get them to do work, and tell me they don’t care, they’re dropping out as soon as they’re 16. Their parents tell me they can’t help, they can’t make their sons do anything, either. One is facing incarceration, and may not be here at the end of the year. If 4 of these 6 don’t reach their goals on the end of the year test, that will “prove” I’m a bad teacher.

“I wanted to work with students who really needed me, to help students who are struggling the most. But because I work with students who are impoverished, disabled, homeless, incarcerated, and mentally unstable, I may very well be labeled as “ineffective.” Does this really mean I’m a bad teacher?”

Andrea Rediske is perplexed. After the death of her son Ethan, she thought the Florida legislature would pass a law named in his honor as “Ethan’s Law” to allow local school officials to grant waivers so that children like Ethan, in medical emergency, would not be required to take the state test.

Then Pam Stewart, the state commissioner, accused Andrea of trying to advance her “political agenda,” (Stewart didn’t say what that agenda might be other than to protect children like Ethan from being harassed by bureaucrats like Stewart). Then the legislature quietly dropped Ethan’s Law and added a few sentences in a general accountability bill that would a hire e the same purpose.

But trouble ahead! The U.S. Department of Education weighs in to warn Florida that if it dares to excuse more than 1% of students with disabilities,the state would not be in compliance with federal law.

So the Federal officials have joined forces with those that believe poor Ethan should have been tested as he lay dying.

What kind of a country is this? Who are these people?

Florida politicians have hearts of stone.

When 12-year-old Ethan Rediske lay dying in hospice, the state wanted him to take a mandated test. After his death, his mother Andrea sought passage of a law to protect children like Ethan from harassment by state bureaucrats. Ethan’s Law would have allowed local officials to waive the testing requirement for severely impaired children, instead of seeking a waiver from the state commissioner of education. Not only did the Legislature kill Ethan’s Law, look what else they did. Frankly, this looks like spite work directed towards a grieving parent.

This is a letter from Ethan’s mother, Andrea Rediske:

Dear Family and Friends,

I am forwarding a letter from Representative Karen Castor-Dentel’s aide explaining what is going on right now with what is left of the Ethan Rediske Act. The original bill as it was written is dead, but some of the verbiage has been incorporated into a house bill (HB 7117) and a senate bill (1642) that has other legislation that is not exactly palatable.

Unfortunately, Senator Andy Gardiner is using his political power to add an amendment onto the bill that would force families of severely disabled children to again appeal to the Commissioner of Education, Pam Stewart, for approval waivers lasting more than a year. The original bill allowed approval through local superintendents. Pam Stewart, in a letter to all Florida teachers, in addition to tacitly accusing me of using our tragedy to further my “political agenda” also stated that she only approved 16 out of 30 waivers last year — a little more than a 50% approval rate. This amendment makes it harder, not easier for families already burdened with the tremendous demands of caring for a severely disabled child to be granted waivers for standardized testing. I’m asking for your help to try and persuade Senator Andy Gardiner and Senator Kelli Stargel not to push this amendment on the existing bills. Please call or email them directly and let them know that you are family and friends of Ethan Rediske and ask them to remove this amendment.

There are a lot of ugly politics at play here, but we don’t have to stoop to their level. Please be civil when contacting these individuals — we need to help them understand what a tremendous burden it is to care for a severely disabled and medically fragile child and ask them to make one small part of this burden lighter. Please feel free to forward this information to family and friends who might be willing to help.

Contact information:

Senator Andy Gardiner
20 Senate Office Building
404 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100
Phone: (850) 487-5013

Senator Kelli Stargel
324 Senate Office Building
404 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100
Phone: (850) 487-5015

Thanks for your help, love, and support,


Begin forwarded message:

From: “Gelin, Dominique”
Subject: A brief legislative update
Date: April 3, 2014 at 4:24:58 PM EDT
To: “‘’”

Hello Andrea,

We have never spoken, but my name is Dominique Gelin and I work as the aide in Rep. Castor Dentel’s Tallahassee office. She wanted to be sure you knew about some changes taking place with Senator Legg’s education accountability bill, Senate Bill 1642. It seems that Senator Stargel has filed an amendment which adds a Section 9 to the bill. As you know, this is the companion to Chair Adkins’ House Bill 7117, which included some of the language and intent that was originally included in the bill named for your son, Ethan.

The changes proposed by Senator Stargel combines language from SB 1642 and HB 7117. Briefly stated, Senator Stargel’s amendment offers three exemption options. The first is a one-year exemption which can be approved by the district school superintendent. The second is a one-to-three year exemption coming from the Commissioner’s office, and the final one is a permanent exemption, also to be approved by the Commissioner, and directs the Dep. of Ed. to devise rules to implement.

To me, it doesn’t make the process any easier and makes it unclear when someone needs to apply for a one-year, one-three year or permanent exemption. I don’t understand why this process gets more complicated with each step, especially when the whole purpose is to simplify and remove an unnecessary bureaucratic burden on families.

As you know, the bills are moving through both chambers. We will continue to work with committee staff to clarify our position to alleviate the burden of testing requirements on families and children with disabilities. Please do not hesitate to let me know if you have any questions.


Dominique Gelin
Legislative Aide
Rep. Karen Castor Dentel
Florida House District 30

District Office: (407) 659-4818
Capitol Office: (850) 717-5030

Andrea Gabor, the Michael Bloomberg Professor of Journalism at Baruch College of the City University of New York, has an opinion article in today’s New York Times, where she patiently explains that charter schools enroll a smaller proportion of students with disabilities, causing the neighborhood public schools to have a larger proportion of the students with the highest needs than the charter schools.


She writes:


In Harlem, there is a marked disparity between the special-needs populations in charter and traditional public schools, according to the city education department’s annual progress reports. In East Harlem, data for the 2012-13 school year shows that most of the public open-enrollment elementary and middle schools have double, and several have triple, the proportion of special-needs kids of nearby charter schools. At most of these public schools, at least a quarter of students have Individualized Education Programs, or I.E.P.s, which are required for children who receive special-education services.


Read that again slowly: the local public schools “have double, and several have triple, the proportion of special-needs kids of nearby charter schools.”


Noting that the latest legislative boon to favors allows them to expand at will inside public school buildings, pushing out the students who are there, Gabor asks the obvious question:


“Is there a point at which fostering charter schools undermines traditional public schools and the children they serve?”


Gabor makes a sensible recommendation:


If charter schools are allowed to push out existing public schools, they should, at the very least, be subject to the same accountability measures for enrollment, attrition and disciplinary procedures, to ensure that the neediest students are being treated fairly.


Gabor did not mention that charters do not accept the same proportion of English language learners, which causes the nearby public schools to have higher proportions of these students as well. One wonders why the reporters at the New York Times have not discovered these obvious disparities, which can easily be found in public records? Any school that manages to enroll fewer needy students and can push out those it doesn’t want will have higher scores than any school that must accept those that were unwanted by the first school. This is the charters’ secret sauce.


Gabor concludes, We should not allow policy makers to enshrine a two-tier system in which the neediest children are left behind. 


But with the latest favors to the billionaire-supported charter industry, that is exactly what New York legislators are doing. The legislature guaranteed that charters don’t have to pay rent, even though the latest legal ruling says that they are not “technically” units of the state and cannot be audited by the State Comptroller. The legislature guaranteed that if the charters rent private space, the New York City public schools must pay their rent. The legislature said that if they are already co-located in a public school building, they can expand at will and take public school space away from the children who are already enrolled there, who have far higher needs. The legislature also reversed Mayor de Blasio’s decision to deny approval to three charter proposals–all belonging to Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy–because she wanted to place elementary schools in high school buildings and because she wanted to grow an elementary school into a middle school in a Harlem public school, which would require the relocation of students with severe disabilities.


The legislature accepted the charters’ claim that the needs of children with high test scores trump the needs of children with disabilities. They assume that those with high scores deserve the right to kick out those with disabilities. There is an ideology behind this but I forebear from naming it.

Florida legislators king to expand vouchers, even though the voters turned down an effort in 2012 to change the state constitution to permit vouchers for religious schools. The
measure was defeated 58-42, despite Jeb Bush’s efforts to pass it.
An earlier voucher program was struck down as unconstitutional by
the state courts. The only current voucher program is for students
with disabilities, called the McKay Scholarship Program. A journalistic
exposé called it a “cottage industry” of fraud.
writer won a major national award for this story from his
colleagues. Yet legislators want more.

The good news–for the moment–is that parents and teachers recently beat back the latest attempt to give away public money to religious schools. But be vigilant. Jeb & Co. will be back.

A comment from a reader:


Hi! I’m going through the same problem right now with my son who will be taking the state testing for the first time this year. He is on the spectrum, and is incredibly bright, but can only demonstrate it on tests if it is presented to him in a way he understands. He thinks, reasons, and understands at a different level of comprehension than what is on these tests. I asked his school if his questions could be reworded for him to understand, and they won’t do it. My friend has a great FB page where she is fighting for severely disabled children, but changes need to be made for ALL the disabled/special needs kids. //

Andrea Rediske, the mother of Ethan Rediske, worked tirelessly to persuade the State Legislature in Florida to pass an act that would have eliminated the state’s relentless demand to test Ethan as he lay dying in hospice.

Ethan was born with profound disabilities; he was blind and suffered from cerebral palsy, yet the state tormented him to take its standardized tests. Read Andrea Rediske’s testimony to the state legislature here. 

The act, which was to be called the Ethan Rediske Act, would have allowed local officials to make the decision not to test students like Ethan, rather than going through an elaborate process that required a waiver from the state, one that must be signed by the Florida Secretary of Education, who must review and personally sign every single waiver.

You see, in Florida, standardized testing has become the Holy Grail. It is the Golden Calf. It is the one idea that has permeated the thinking of almost every legislator. If they cannot measure children’s ability to pick the right box or bubble on a test purchased from a major vendor, then education ceases to exist in the state of Florida. This might be thought of as Jeb Bush’s theology, and he has a large number in his testing cult.

Andrea Rediske thought that it was madness to try to test Ethan. She “knew it made no sense for her son, who couldn’t speak and was fed through a tube, to be asked about how a peach tastes.

Or to ask a blind child to point to a picture of a monkey. (That’s another real-life example for another student in Orange County.)

Or to then professionally evaluate those kids’ teachers based on how the kids score on tests they could never really take.”

After Ethan’s death, his mother pushed hard for passage of “The Ethan Rediske Act,” to protect children like him from being harassed by the state. Pam Stewart, the State Commissioner of Education, then wrote a letter to every educator in the state, implying  that Andrea Rediske’s valiant fight to protect other children with severe disabilities was “a political effort to attack assessments by using the tragic situations of children with special needs.” In other words, the state commissioner chastised Andrea Rediske for “politicizing” her son’s death. There are times when you do wonder whether  public officials have any sense of shame. This is one of them. The appropriate response from Stewart would have been to offer her sincere condolences to the Rediske family and to offer to help change the law so that children like Ethan were never again harassed by state officials. Conservatives claim to be against “big government,” but it appears from this example that “big government” is just fine so long as they are in charge and can invade other people’s privacy, their confidential student data, their hospital rooms, their hospices, and their bedrooms.

Andrea Rediske wrote to tell me that the Ethan Rediske Act will not be passed, but language protecting children in his condition will be inserted into another bill. The state bureaucracy–especially the highly politicized and intellectually vacuous Florida Department of Education, could not bear the thought of the act passing. But Andrea Rediske wins anyway because the heart of Ethan’s Act survives.


Andrea Rediske wrote:

Ethan’s Act is indeed dead, but it’s been incorporated into a larger bill on school accountability.

Here is the link to the bill:

Page 38 has the verbiage on children with medical complexity. It states that a child with a medical complexity determined by their physician and IEP team will not be required to take standardized testing.


Assuming this bill passes, we may conclude that in the future, children like Ethan will not be tortured by the state of Florida to take meaningless tests. Nor will their parents be tortured by insensitive, heartless bureaucrats in the Florida Department of Education.

Ethan has won a victory for other children.

God rest his soul.









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