Archives for category: Special Education

A group of parents, teachers, and scholars wrote a petition to the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which is hiring Teach for America to supply inexperienced teachers for students with disabilities. It is astonishing that the board would want to place young college graduates into classrooms with students who need well-trained teachers, not youngsters with five weeks of training.



Cancel the contract that pays TFA to recruit untrained interns to teach our vulnerable special education students. Identify reputable programs to recruit graduates and student teachers who are committed to the teaching profession, to our schools and our students.


The long version–


This is to urge the LAUSD school board to immediately rescind its contract with TFA for special education services. Our most vulnerable students deserve the most qualified professionals possible.


Los Angeles Unified School District ratified a contract with Teach For America to provide trainees to fill 25 teaching positions in special education at its November 10, 2015 board meeting. There was no debate on the matter; it was hidden in the consent calendar with attachments of attachments buried deep.


While Board member Dr. George McKenna raised important questions about TFA’s retention rate and its commitment to our students, the answers he was provided were misleading because they rely on unchecked data from TFA itself, according to a report in American Prospect (1/5/15). The truth is 87% of TFA recruits plan to leave teaching after their internships end, according to a recent article in Bloomberg News (3/9/15). LAUSD was only the most recent stop by TFA on a statewide campaign over the last few months making the same claims about the need for special ed TFAers. Most school districts from Chula Vista to Santa Ana resisted the sales job after public outcry. But those districts held actual discussions about the controversial contracts with TFA.


LAUSD senior staff needs to go back to the drawing board to create partnerships with reputable teaching programs to recruit teachers who will be qualified on Day 1 and are likely to remain committed to the teaching profession.


TFA is one of the tools that Eli Broad is using to attack our schools and undermine the very fabric of the public school system in Los Angeles (his foundation is a top funder of TFA). Our elected leaders just endorsed that by approving this contract. It should be rescinded immediately.


We are a coalition of public education advocates that includes:


Tina Andres, Santa Ana Unified teacher and special education parent

Jameson Brewer, PhD, former TFA

Anthony Cody, co-founder/board member Network for Public Education

Paul Markowitz, teacher and principal, retired

Josh Leibner, National Board Certified Teacher

Ellen Lubic, Joining Forces for Education

Carl Petersen, Change the LAUSD

Betty Jo Ravitz, former teacher and Director of Music

Sari Rynew, retired teacher

Robert Skeels, Juris Doctor Candidate and public education advocate

Julian Vasquez Heilig, PhD, Cloaking Inequity

Karen Wolfe, PSconnect

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.

Clever equity investors! Goldman Sachs is profiting by investing in Social Impact Bonds, which pay off by helping pre-schoolers avoid placement in special education. The pilot program is in Utah. Goldman Sachs makes money for every child who is not referred to special education services.

But critics are skeptical:

“Nine early-education experts reviewed the program for The New York Times and identified irregularities in how the program’s success was measured. These seemed to significantly overstate the effect of the investment.

“Goldman said its investment helped almost 99 percent of the Utah children it was tracking to avoid special education.

“Researchers say well-funded preschool programs can reduce the proportion of students needing special education by 50 percent at most, usually nearer 10 or 20 percent.

“The success rate in the Utah program was based on what researchers say was a faulty assumption — that many of the school children would have needed special education without the preschool.

“This overstatement means that Goldman and its philanthropic partner, the J.B. & M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation, received more in payments than they should have. The bank was paid for each at-risk child who ended up not needing special education after leaving the preschool program.

“The Utah school district’s methodology, which led to large numbers of children being identified as at risk, was adopted by Goldman when it negotiated its investment.

“As long as 50 percent of the children in the program avoid special education, Goldman will earn back its money and 5 percent interest — more than Utah would have paid if it had borrowed the money through the bond market.”

Bill Gates recently said that he didn’t realize how hard it was to change education. It is really hard work. He has no idea. Sitting in his air-conditioned offices overlooking Seattle, flying in his personal jet, relaxing on his family yacht, surrounded by hordes of assistants and aides, he has no idea of what teachers do and no understanding of why his efforts to “reform” schools keep failing. He thinks it is hard work.


But, in Valerie Strauss’ blog, she quotes Nancy E. Bailey, a special education teacher who left the classroom because of the damage done to her students by high-stakes testing. Bailey explains to Gates what is really hard work. It is harder than “philanthropic work.”


Bailey, who wrote the 2013 book “Misguided Education Reform: Debating the Impact on Students,” challenged Melinda and Bill Gates to spend “some serious time in poor public schools” to learn what is really hard in education for teachers and students — and to “spend time with the many moms of students with disabilities who home-school not because they want to, but because schools have cut special education services.”


Here is a shortened version of her admittedly incomplete list of what’s really hard in education (and you can see the full blog post and list here):


Being an over-tested kindergartner, not getting any recess, and being made to feel you are a failure before you get started in your schooling.
Working as a teacher on a day-to-day basis with students who come from abject poverty and must deal with the many troubling consequences that come with a life lived in hardship.
Being a child with disabilities and being afraid of a high-stakes test (or several) you don’t understand and feeling like a failure!
Being made to read before you are ready,
Failing third grade based on one test.
Being a high school student who has to focus on test-taking and not given ample time to explore real career options.
Being poor and working only in math and reading with little opportunity to participate in music or art classes.
Deciding if you can afford to leave teaching because you hate the changes that negatively impact children, including all the high-stakes Common Core testing.
Knowing you have to teach to pay the bills but understanding why parents dislike you for being forced to implement harsh reforms.
Being told you will have to reapply for the job you need in the career you hold dear because your school has been turned into a charter school.
Working with overcrowded class sizes because some reformer doesn’t know better and thinks class size doesn’t matter.
Not being able to get to all your students because your paraprofessional has been let go.
Not being able to go to the bathroom when you need to because your paraprofessional has been let go.
Not being paid for a master’s degree on which you spent time and money to better yourself professionally.
Working in a crummy school building while a brand new charter school is opened down the street.
Getting judged for your teaching by the test scores of students you don’t have.
Being forced to focus more on data than children, and filling out mounds of time-consuming and often useless paperwork.
Watching your young students fail computer-based tests because they can’t type fast enough.
Knowing how much time you spent learning to be a teacher and watching others with inadequate training get jobs.
Being forced to put away your developmentally appropriate student play kitchens, puppets and costumes in kindergarten.
Seeing your school put money into iPads when there are so many other things needed.
Working in a school with no librarian or media specialist.
Sending your child to a school that has no school nurse.
Not having enough guidance counselors to work with you when your student has mental health issues.
Not having appropriate special education services to offer children who need them.
Being a student in a no-excuse charter school and knowing that you could be punished for the smallest disciplinary infraction.
Having your local school board ignore your pleas to keep your public school open.




A lawsuit was filed in federal court on behalf of five students at Achievement First Crown Heights, claiming that the charter school did not provide mandated services “and were punished for behavior that arose from their disabilities.”

The lawsuit charged that the students did not get physical therapy and other services for weeks, and that a student with autism “was disciplined for not looking in the direction a teacher instructed or for hiding under his desk.”

Achievement First is a “no-excuses” charter chain with schools in New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Its backers include some of the wealthiest supporters of privatization. The families are also suing the New York City Department of Education and the New York State Education Department for permitting Achievement First to avoid its legal responsibilities to the children. One parent said that her autistic son, a third-grader, was sent to a second-grade classroom as punishment for his behavior. The website of the chain “describes this approach as part of Achievement First’s strict approach to discipline.” It is part of a policy called “sweating the small stuff.”

It will be interesting to see whether federal courts allow no-excuses charter schools to abrogate the rights of students with disabilities.

Fred Klonsky hosts special education expert Bev Johns, who explains that social impact bonds (SIB) encourage investors to take over government responsibilities and make a profit.

Special education advocate Bev Johns has written here warning about the impact of Social Impact Bonds on special education services.

What are Social Impact Bonds (SIBs)?

They have become a favorite privatization tool of corporate Democrats and others.

Wall Street loves them.

Also known as Pay for Success programs in which Wall Street investors, often using funding from private philanthropies, invest in social programs which once were funded directly by the government. The aim is to reduce government costs by offering profits to Wall Street.

The profit increases for investors when schools reduce the number of students who receive special education services:

When it comes to special education programs and SIBs, success is quantified by counting how many special needs students are moved out of the programs and how many have services removed or denied.

It is just the opposite of what we have fought in favor of for decades. For those of us who have taught Special Needs students, either as general education teachers, special subject teachers or special education teachers, we look at success as meaning accurately identifying the needs of individual students, providing evidence for those needs, and getting service and support to those students. We never considered that if we determined there was a continuing need to provide services to a student it meant we failed.

We don’t look at special education students in the aggregate. That is the opposite of the essence of the IEP, the Individualized Educational Program.

To make matters worse, SIBS have been included in the reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB.

The Senate reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (ESEA) includes an amendment by Senator Orrin Hatch that rewards investors in bonds if schools reduce special education enrollments.

We need to let every national organization that we belong to know that we oppose the concept of paying Goldman Sachs and other investors for every child that avoids special education (what Sen. Hatch calls Pay-for-Success).

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.”


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