Archives for category: Special Education

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?

Janet Van Lone left a comment on the blog, sharing a letter she sent to Campbell Brown, who advocates for charters and vouchers and for eliminating teacher due process.

Janet writes:

I was really annoyed at Campbell Brown the other day, so I wrote her a letter:

Dear Campbell Brown,

I used to like you. I remember watching you on the Today Show and CNN awhile back. To me, you felt like a friend, someone I’d like to have over for a cup of coffee or as a member of my bookclub. I see now that you have joined the ranks of school “reformer” and “child advocate”.

I have two kids who attend public school. I am a former special education teacher. I’ve spent years working with children who are living in poverty, dealing with it’s disastrous effects. Currently I am pursuing my doctorate in education, in an effort to continually work on the real problems we face in this field. I have enormous respect for the teaching profession, and I want to do everything that I can to recruit and train great teachers to put in all types of classrooms across this country. I want them to stay in their jobs for many years, and once they become master teachers, I want them to inspire and mentor the next generation of educators.

Teachers, unions, and tenure are not the problem with public education. It seems that you have waged war on teachers because of all of the “teacher sexual predators” who are apparently running rampant in our schools. Let me be clear. The very large majority of teachers are hard working people who decided to teach for the love of the profession, to inspire youth, and to make a difference in society. If a sexual predator makes it into our ranks we would be the first to be outraged and disgusted. Our job is to protect children and we take that very seriously. To my knowledge, I have not met any teacher sexual predators in the almost 20 years I’ve spent in public schools. Teachers, unions, and tenure is NOT the problem with public education.

YOU and your corporate billionaire funders are the real problem. You provide no significant data to support your claims, you refuse to address poverty (the real issue), and your goal is to dismantle the public school system, all in the name of more profits for you and your greedy billionaire donors.

You are not a school reformer, nor are you an advocate. Child advocates spend time with children. Advocates are voices for those in need. They act on their behalf to ensure they receive adequate nutrition, healthcare, education, and they work to help each child meet their own individual potential. Advocates fight tirelessly against poverty. They fight against predators who seek to personally profit off of the most vulnerable children in our society.

Diane Ravitch, a real hero for public education and the teachers and children it serves, has offered to talk with you about the actual problems with public education. Please do that. You are misinformed and misguided. She can help.

In the meantime, I’m going to pay attention to who is benefitting from your scheme, both financially and politically. And I’m going to tell everyone and anyone who will listen.

Please reconsider your actions so that you and your friends don’t destroy public education.

Janet Van Lone

This is incomprehensible. Mike Klonsky reports that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is cutting the budget for special education.

The city and the public schools are in a deep hole, financially.

But the budget can’t be balanced by firing teachers and aides for children with special needs, for two reasons. First, because it is morally wrong to make savings by taking away teachers from the neediest children. Second, because children with disabilities are protected by federal law. As Klonsky says, parents will file lawsuits, and the law is on their side.

Why not raise taxes on the 1%?

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.

This is his message:


Shame on New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo. Shame on New York state’s legislators.
Once again the children with the most significant disabilities who live in our most impoverished communities throughout New York are totally ignored by our representatives. These are the students who their respective community school
districts have been unable to educate due to their significant academic and behavioral challenges. I use this term representatives lightly in that our elected officials only represent major contributors, special interest groups and benefactors; donors who ensure their reelection; contributors who unashamedly advocate for privatization of our public schools, contributors who advocate the dismantling of our unions; public rhetoric that demeans our public school teachers and administrators ;contributors who have little or no training in education and; representatives who support an educational reform movement that is ill conceived and will prove ineffective for students of all abilities.
The New York State assembly, senate and the Governor’s office represent all that is insensitive, corrupt and self-serving in our state and country, particularly around the students we are blessed to serve; those with significant disabilities.
Their latest demonstration of the aforementioned disturbing variables is their inability to pass a law this session that would provide alternative educational programs, which include the 853 schools and the public special act school districts (and I underscore the public nature of the public special act school districts), with a minimal annual increase in funding. Unlike other public school districts in New York, these vital educational programs as of this time will be funded at prior year rates for current year costs. The sustainability of these programs that consistently produce outstanding outcomes are in jeopardy of continuing to educate New York’s most vulnerable students. It should be noted that historically funding for these educational programs have at times been frozen which has caused enormous fiscal stress.
Shame on our so called representatives. Despite their outright disregard for our student bodies my advocacy and the advocacy of those with like minds will not rest until the education we offer is comparable to community public schools. Our mission to ensure our students successfully cross “The Bridge To Adulthood” and overcome the many societal obstacles they had no part in creating. I urge our representatives to rethink their position on this bill and join me in advocating for this highly deserving population of students.
Ed Placke,Ed.D.
Greenburgh North Castle UFSD

Bianca Tanis and Marla Kilfoyle are parents and educators in Néw York. They have fought against inappropriate testing of children with special needs. They are leaders of the state’s large Opt Out movement.

They became outraged when they learned that the Chancellor of the State Board of Regents said that, if she had a child with certsin disabilities, she would “think twice” before letting the child take the state tests.

This is the message that parents of children with disabilities have repeated again and again, only to be rebuffed.

Tanis and Kilfoyle write:

“For some time now, the parents of New York have been in full revolt over the testing requirements set down by both federal and state leadership. Parents of children with special needs have been extremely vocal about the fact that Common Core state tests in grades 3-8 are abusive and inappropriate for their children. You can read examples of parents informing Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch that these tests have harmed their children with special needs here, here, here, and here. Despite anecdotal stories of children engaging in self-injury and soiling themselves during state testing, Merryl Tisch blatantly ignored parent concerns and allowed testing abuses to continue. As a result, New York is experiencing the largest parent test revolt in education history…

“In fact, just a few months ago, Chancellor Tisch penned an editorial in which she criticized parents who planned to opt out of state assessments by asserting that opt out hurts the neediest children, characterizing opt out as “putting blinders on….”

They then link to an opinion article by Tisch in which she disparaged parents who opt out and insisted that the tests provide valuable information. Tisch wrote: “It’s time to stop making noise to protect the adults and start speaking up for the students.”

They note:

“As Chancellor of the Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch is keenly aware of the fact that a current 5th grade student with a disability who receives a testing accommodation of extended time may sit for as long as 9 hours over the course of 3 days for a single exam. Despite being aware of this and other egregious examples of abuse, the Chancellor has done nothing to lessen the duration of testing or to mediate the harm to students. Rather, she has overseen changes to the New York State testing program that have doubled and in some instances, tripled the length of testing and allowed the inclusion of reading passages years above grade level.”

They conclude:

“The Chancellor’s actions are tantamount to sitting by and not only watching, but commissioning the abuse of the most vulnerable children. Her failure to inform special needs parents of the potential for harm while simultaneously encouraging them to subject their children to inappropriate tests is inexcusable.

“Merryl Tisch should immediately relinquish her Chancellorship and step down from the Board of Regents. Failing her resignation, parents and educators must urge their legislators NOT to reappoint to Merryl Tisch to the Board of Regents when her term expires next year. New York needs education leadership that will protect our children, not lead them to harm.”

Geoff Decker in Chalkbeat New York reports that the Chancellor of the New York Board of Regents said that if she had a child with special needs, she would think twice about letting the child take the state tests.

“New York’s top education official, who sharply criticized parents who might keep their children from taking state tests a few months ago, offered a different message for parents of some students with special needs on Monday.
“Personally, I would say that if I was the mother of a student with a certain type of disability, I would think twice before I allowed my child to sit through an exam that was incomprehensible to them,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said in Albany.

Tisch’s remarks came after federal education officials rejected New York’s request to loosen testing requirements for some high-needs students in June. The waiver would have exempted English language learners who have attended U.S. schools for less than two years from taking the tests, and assessed students with severe disabilities based on their instructional level, rather than their age-based grade…

Never before has Tisch supported opting out as a reasonable response to unreasonable demands.

The state’s “request to exempt certain high-need students from some testing requirements was denied. Assistant Secretary of Education Deborah Delisle wrote that the current testing requirements were necessary to ensure that academic progress of all students is properly tracked.”

This is the height of absurdity. If a child has cognitive impairments so severe that he or she cannot understand the test, what exactly is the point of forcing the child to take the test. If the teacher knows that the child is certain to fail because of his or her disabilities, requiring the test is akin to child abuse.

Last year in Florida, the state compelled a dying child to take the state tests. At what point does a society come to realize that policymakers who impose such draconian mandates don’t care about children? When common sense and common decency are gone, what is left but an empty bureaucratic shell?

Where are the lawyers?


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