Archives for category: Special Education

Florida has a voucher for program for students with disabilities, called McKay scholarships. A story in Florida’s “Sun-Sentinel” revealed that a sizable number of these students with vouchers attend schools that do not have any full-time teachers with special education training or certification.

Dan Sweeney of the “Sun-Sentinel” writes:

“Learning disabled students can get up to $19,829 of taxpayer money each year to attend private school if they choose – but there is no state accountability to ensure the kids’ needs are being met.

“The law that created the vouchers does not require private schools to have anyone on staff with any sort of certification in dealing with children with learning disabilities. Nor are there public controls in place to check whether the schools are helping them.

“In Palm Beach County, 1,232 children receive $8.5 million in state voucher money. How much they get depends on on the severity of their disabilities, with amounts ranging from $4,125 to $19,829.

“There are 59 private schools in the county that accept the vouchers – and at least 28 of them don’t have full-time special education teachers.

“If someone wants to pay for a school that has no standards out of their own pocket, they’re free to do that. This is America,” said Kathleen Oropeza, co-founder of Fund Education Now, an organization that advocates for public education in the state of Florida. “But when you’re taking public dollars and you’re putting them into these private schools that are not regulated and have no obligation to meet the same standards that we impose on our public schools, that’s when the public should become concerned.”

And Sweeney adds:

“The voucher law only requires that private school teachers pass a background check and have a bachelor’s degree and three years of teaching experience or “special skills, knowledge, or expertise that qualifies them to provide instruction in subjects taught.”

“There is no limit on how many students can receive the McKay scholarship – it is solely based on need.

“To qualify, kids need to be on an Individual Education Plan, which sets educational goals for a child and allows for specialized instruction.

“But “once the family leaves the district on a McKay scholarship to a private school, the [plan] is no longer valid. Private schools are not required to follow the [plan] created by district personnel,” said Cheryl Etters, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education.

“And nobody from the state or district checks to see if the children’s’ needs are being met.”

This is not the first time that a reporter has called attention to the bsence of oversight or regulation of the McKay scholarship program.

In 2011, reporter Gus Garcia-Roberts wrote a blistering exposé of the program, which he called “a cottage industry of fraud and chaos,” sending millions of public dollars to voucher schools that lacked curriculum or qualified staff. Garcia-Roberts won the Sigma Delta Chi award for public service journalism for the story. But the McKay program continues to be unregulated, unsupervised, and one in which public funds follow students to schools un equipped to meet their needs.

The Working Families Party briefly flirted with the possibility of running an independent slate. Its candidate for governor was going to be Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham Law professor who specializes in investigating public corruption.

However, at the party’s annual convention, WFP endorsed Cuomo after he promised to govern like a Democrat instead of a conservative Republican.

Teachout has not given up. She may challenge Cuomo in the Democratic primary.

Here is her statement on education.

Oregon Educator, a high school principal in that state, poses some hard questions about the federal role in education.

The federal government puts up about 12% of the cost of public education but has grown increasingly assertive about exercising maximal control over state and local decision-making.

She writes:

“In 1965, President Johnson’s landmark education bill was designed to equalize schooling as part of his War on
Poverty. It went a long way to accomplishing that. Unfortunately, now fifty years later, the federal dollars constitute less help and more control, resulting in testing regimens and a hyper-concentration on the tested skills that undermine programs in the arts and sciences as well as experiential learning that has been shown effective. We are now down the rabbit hole of tightly managed programs with single metrics (tests) that lead to ever more restrictive programs. Schools in poor neighborhoods are scapegoated while other poverty factors are ignored. And because we can now blame public schools for their alleged poor performance, more and more of public education dollars are skimmed off by charter schools, many of them run by highly profitable corporations.”

Is the transfer of power to Washington, D.C., irreversible. No, it is not. As the public becomes aware that all of the Bush-Obama initiatives have failed and that state and local control has been replaced by corporate control, there will be a demand to reverse the power-hungry federal control of public education. Federal control was not the intent of Congress in 1965 when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was passed. Nor was it the intent of Congress when the Department of Education was created in 1979. No child Left Behind was and is a failed aw. Obama’s Race to the Top is NCLB on steroids. The two in tandem are imposing failed ideas and doing serious harm to public education. The only question is whether our schools can survive nearly three more years of Arne Duncan’s destructive “leadership.”

A few days ago, I posted the names of the members of the “work groups” that wrote the Common Core standards. There was one work group for English language arts and another for mathematics. There were some members who served on both work groups.

 

Altogether, 24 people wrote the Common Core standards. None identified himself or herself as a classroom teacher, although a few had taught in the past (not the recent past). The largest contingent on the work groups were representatives of the testing industry.

 

Mercedes Schneider looked more closely at the 24 members of the two work groups to determine their past experience as educators, with special attention to whether they had any classroom experience.

 

Here are a few noteworthy conclusions based on her review of the careers of the writers of the CCSS:

 

In sum, only 3 of the 15 individuals on the 2009 CCSS math work group held positions as classroom teachers of mathematics. None was a classroom teacher in 2009. None taught elementary or middle school mathematics. Three other members have other classroom teaching experience in biology, English, and social studies. None taught elementary school. None taught special education or was certified in special education or English as a Second Language (ESL).

Only one CCSS math work group member was not affiliated with an education company or nonprofit….

 

In sum, 5 of the 15 individuals on the CCSS ELA work group have classroom experience teaching English. None was a classroom teacher in 2009. None taught elementary grades, special education, or ESL, and none hold certifications in these areas.

Five of the 15 CCSS ELA work group members also served on the CCSS math work group. Two are from Achieve; two, from ACT, and one, from College Board.

 

One member of the work groups has a BA in elementary education but no record of ever having taught those grades.

 

Almost all members who had any classroom experience were high school teachers.

 

Schneider concludes:

 

My findings indicate that NGA and CCSSO had a clear, intentional bent toward CCSS work group members with assessment experience, not with teaching experience, and certainly not with current classroom teaching experience.

In both CCSS work groups, the number of individuals with “ACT” and “College Board” designations outnumbered those with documented classroom teaching experience.

 

The makeup of the work groups helps to explain why so many people in the field of early childhood education find the CCSS to be developmentally inappropriate. There was literally no one on the writing committee (with one possible exception) with any knowledge of how very young children learn. The same concern applies to those who educate children in the middle-school years or children with disabilities or English language learners. The knowledge of these children and their needs was not represented on the working group.

 

 

 

 

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
gardiner.andy.web@flsenate.gov

Senator Kelli Stargel
324 Senate Office Building
404 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100
Phone: (850) 487-5015
stargel.kelli.web@flsenate.gov

Thanks for your help, love, and support,

Andrea

Begin forwarded message:

From: “Gelin, Dominique”
Subject: A brief legislative update
Date: April 3, 2014 at 4:24:58 PM EDT
To: “‘andrea.rediske@gmail.com'”

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.

Sincerely,

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

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

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