Archives for category: Special Education

Dawn Neely Randall, a teacher in Ohio, is a passionate crusader for the rights of children. She posted this comment on the blog.

“Let me just tell you what stands out the most to me from a meeting I attended with legislators and educators about high stakes testing after school tonight. It wasn’t what the Senator said. It wasn’t what the State Rep. said. It wasn’t that the president of the college attended. It wasn’t that there were superintendents there (and I finally had the opportunity to mention how many were bullying parents for opting their children out of tests).

“What was it that stood out? It was the comment made by a teacher of special needs students who said that she had one student who pulled out every single eyelash the child had during all the hours of PARCC testing. Every. Single. Eyelash. Let that one settle on you for awhile.”

Julian Vasquez Heilig reports that the school board of Santa Ana, CA, will decide today whether to hire TFA to teach students with disabilities.

Why would anyone hire the least experienced, least prepared youngsters to teach children with the greatest needs?

Mary Nelson, the mother of a 9-year-old boy with disabilities, wanted to opt her child out of state testing, but the law doesn’t permit opting out.


She wrote a heart-wrenching story about her efforts to get him excused from what she knew would be a painful and humiliating experience for him, but the bureaucracy could say only that there is no opting out, no excuses. They even insisted that they were protecting his “rights” by requiring him to take tests that he could not pass.


She wrote:


I am the mother of a wonderful 9-year-old who has some learning differences. His challenges make school days very hard. He has fetal alcohol syndrome, ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety disorder and mood disorder. Quite a list for such a little guy. To say we have had a rough time at school is an understatement.


At my son’s last Individualized Education Program meeting, considerable time was spent discussing how to help him get through the English Language Arts benchmarks and the End of Grade tests.


It was the consensus of his team that the tests were above his ability. Why should he be required to take tests that are above his ability when we already know what the results will be? The answer: “It’s the law.”


As his mother, I have spent all his life trying to protect him and doing what I believed to be best for him. So this did not sit well. I envisioned him having to sit at a desk for three hours at a time, trying to answer questions he doesn’t know the answers to. To me, that is child abuse. State and federal leaders are currently debating how many standardized tests children should be required to take and whether parents should have the choice to opt out of tests they see as harmful to their children. These leaders need to pay closer attention to the experiences of children like my son.


Imagine if your boss told you that you needed to take a three-hour test and that, when you opened it, you discovered it was in Latin. What would you be feeling? Anxiety? Fear? Anger? Embarrassment? Am I going to lose my job? What will my boss think? Was I supposed to know this? If your boss told you not to worry, that it didn’t matter whether you knew the answers, would you believe it? If your performance didn’t matter, why would you be taking the test in the first place?


Now consider this happening to a 9-year-old with emotional issues. How, in good conscience, can I let this happen to my child?….


If you know anything about children with disabilities, you know that you can do things right 100 times and that all it takes is to do it wrong once and it’s like starting over. For what? Why can’t his school be allowed to make a sensible, child-centered decision? Why can’t I do what I know is right for my child? To me, this is just crazy.


Many state legislatures have established official opt-out procedures that recognize the right of parents to make decisions in the best interests of their children. If North Carolina’s legislators care about children like my son and about the rights of parents, they will take similar action.


Read more here:


The PTA of the Hastings-on-Hudson, Néw York, school district sent the following open letter to Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy charter schools. They shared it with me and asked me to post it.


Eva Moskowitz
Success Academy Charter Schools,
Chief Executive Officer

Dear Ms. Moskowitz:

We write in response to your recent comment to WNYC, explaining why Success Academy schools don’t accept new students after fourth grade: “It’s not really fair for the student in seventh grade or a high school student to have to be educated with a child who’s reading at a second or third grade level.”

As advocates for children, we are deeply troubled by your and Success Academy’s view. Many seventh graders who read at a second or third grade level are children with learning differences. These children already face huge obstacles and prejudices, even as research clearly supports that including these children in general education settings benefits all.

Inclusive classrooms, which comprise special education students and their general education peers, are academically, socially and emotionally beneficial to both groups. In fact, the advantages of such classrooms are so powerful and the outcomes often so successful that federal law requires that these children be placed with their non-disabled peers whenever possible (i.e., in the “least restrictive environment”). At a recent PTA meeting here in Hastings-on-Hudson, parents of general education students specifically asked for their children to be placed in inclusion classes, with their special education peers, once they learned more about the benefits to all that those classrooms produce, including more attention to differentiated learning, as well as additional teaching staff.

In addition, dismissing a child who is reading below-grade level puts too much emphasis on reading and ignores the myriad of other measures of achievement. A child who reads below grade level may excel in math or biology or be an exceptional artist, athlete, or musician.

We live in a diverse world, and it is our job and our duty to create environments that engender respect, support, and, possibly most important, empathy. The direction you advocate
— separating and rewarding just the highest achievers in selected subjects — does a disservice to all.

So while you state that including struggling readers is “not really fair” to your current Success Academy scholars, what saddens us – and feels truly unfair – is this layer of unnecessary and painful exclusion and hardship, in the name of protecting your high-achieving scholars, that you find appropriate and necessary.

We are happy to meet with you and explain these issues more deeply, if that would be helpful. And in any event, we ask that you issue an apology, and also that your schools make a concerted effort to include children with special needs or learning differences. It’s not only best practice, ethical, and fair, but it is the law.

Very truly yours,

Hastings-on-Hudson PTSA Executive Board, Lisa Eggert Litvin and Jacqueline Weitzman, Co Presidents

Hastings-on-Hudson SEPTA (Special Education PTA) Executive Board, Nina Segal and Jennifer Cunningham, Co Presidents

(Note that we are sending this to the general information email for Success Academies, because after extensive online searches, as well as numerous phone calls to individual Success Academy Schools and to the State’s offices governing charters, we have been unable to obtain an accurate email address for you. We left a message at Success Academy’s business office (as it was called by a receptionist at one of the academies) explaining the gist of the letter and asking for your email. If we receive a response, we will forward to that address.)

Peter Greene watched a video of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan testifying before a Senate committee about the budget. Watch what happens when a Senator asked Duncan about programs in the Department that address the problems of dyslexia.

Greene writes:

Senator Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana) asks a simple question: What specific programs do we have in place for helping students with dyslexia?

And it just goes south from there.

The answer, pretty clearly, is “none.” But Duncan is bound determined not to go there, so he tries, “Well, students with dyslexia have special needs, and we have a special needs fund, so they fall under that–“

Cassidy bores in, citing studies and facts and figures to elaborate on his point which is that students with dyslexia make up 80% of the students with special needs and as much as 20% of the general student population, so wouldn’t it make sense to have programs directed at that particular issue?

Let the flailing begin. I would put together my usual summary-deconstruction of a Duncan word salad, but this is the mouth noise equivalent of a large-mouthed bass thrown up on the creek bank and trying to flop his way back to some water.

Cassidy tries again. Does Duncan have any sense of the quality of dyslexia programs out there? The answer, again, is “no,” but Arne can’t form that word, so instead he starts making up some sentences that boil down to, “I suppose there are some good ones and some bad ones and some in between ones” which is not exactly an insight that required the United States Secretary of Education to deliver it.

Here’s Arne’s problem– he absolutely has an idea about what the approach to dyslexia should be. He’s been very clear about it in the past. Let’s go back to his conference call about new USED special needs policies

“We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel.”

Or the explanation from Kevin Huffman in that same call. These words didn’t come out of Duncan’s mouth, but he didn’t say, “Well, that’s not quite what we mean” either.

Huffman challenged the prevailing view that most special education students lag behind because of their disabilities. He said most lag behind because they’re not expected to succeed if they’re given more demanding schoolwork and because they’re seldom tested.

So, Senator Cassidy, that’s the USED plan– we will expect those students with dyslexia to do better, and then if they don’t we’ll get rid of their teachers and replace them with teachers who are better at expecting things. That’s it. That’s the plan.

But Duncan was smart enough not to say that out loud to a man who 1) has clearly done his homework about dyslexia 2) cares about dyslexia and 3) is a US senator.

CNN ran an excellent segment about the burgeoning opt out movement. It is especially strong in New York, but it is rapidly spreading across the country as parents recognize that the tests provide no information other than a score and have no diagnostic value. For some reason, the defenders of high-stakes testing continue to say that the tests are helpful to our most vulnerable children, who are likeliest to fail the test, because until now we have neglected them. We didn’t really know that they were far behind and now they will get attention. After years of No Child Left Behind, in which no child was left untested, this is not a credible claim. Every child has been tested every year since at least 2003. How is it possible to say that no one knows that special education students need extra time and attention and accommodations? How is it possible to say that without Common Core testing, we will not know that English language learners don’t read English? In New York, we have had two administrations of the Common Core. Five percent of the children with disabilities passed the test; 95% were told they were failures. Three percent of English language learners passed the test; 97% were told they failed. How were they helped by learning that they had failed a test that was far beyond their capacity?

A reader wrote to ask whether the Senate revision of No Child Left Behind would permit states to develop alternate curricula and assessments for students with disabilities, and whether the bill will eliminate Secretary Duncan’s mandate that only 1% of children with disabilities could be allowed alternate assessments.

My inside source on the Senate committee staff told me that the authors of the bill wanted to permit states to have more flexibility but the “disability community” insisted on the status quo. They want all children, except the 1% who are most severely disabled, to take exactly the same tests. He suggested that if there were disability groups and parents who thought differently and who wanted greater state and local flexibility, they should make their voices heard.

In New York, when the first Common Core tests were given, only 5% of children with disabilities reached proficient, as compared to 30% of children without disabilities.

Contact the staff of Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and/or Senator Patti Murray of Washington State if you disagree with the lobbyists who want the stays quo.

In 2010, I visited with Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, who was the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee at that time. Along with Richard Rothstein, we explained the damage that No Child Left Behind was doing to children and education. He responded that “the disability community” loves NCLB. We were baffled.

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.
There is a small yet growing cohort of students in our State that are identified as disabled with significant behavioral and psychological challenges, live in urban poverty and have found little success in their home public schools and other public schools such as District 75 and BOCES. As a result, there are few alternatives for these students. The ten New York State Public Special Act School Districts in our State have traditionally been the sole alternative; student live on the campuses in light of their family situation or commute daily from their communities. They provide a comprehensive education for these students to assist them to cross “The Bridge to Adulthood” with graduation rates that are significantly higher than the State average for student with disabilities. For most it is the last option before leaving school and facing those negative outcomes associated with not earning a high school diploma. Clearly Public Special Act School play a role in educational options for student with disabilities.

The Public Special Act School Districts are funded via a tuition rate in which the methodology is established by the New York State Education Department and all increases are approved by the Division of Budget overseen by the Governor. Four of the last five years the Public Special Act School Districts have not received an increase in tuition. As Teacher Retirement, Employee Retirement, New York State Health Insurance, utilities, materials and supplies have all significantly increased, the support from the Governor and our representatives have not. Our students do not have a voice as do the community school districts and charter schools. We do not have the resources to purchase billboards, run ads in the media and most disappointingly have very little parent involvement and advocacy. Therefore it is our elected representatives in Albany to be the voice for these most vulnerable students. They had an opportunity this week to include the Public Special Act School Districts in the budget to ensure our sustainability but they chose not to and once again ignored the most needy student cohort in our State.

As a former New York State Education Department Assistant Commissioner, public school administrator and teacher for over thirty years I have face a variety of challenges and disappointments. The unwillingness of our so-called representatives to advocate for the Public Special Act School Districts is certainly disappointing but repressible. The message this week from Albany is clear—community public school districts for the most part received an increase in State Aid and the Public Special Act School Districts that educate our most disabled poorest cohort of students were disregarded. My greatest fear based on Albany’s outright disregard for these key public districts and the students they educate is they will not exist in the very near future. At that point there will be a new generation of students. With time running out my only hope is the Governor will have the courage to be the voice for our students.

Jonathan Pelto reports that 70% of students will fail the Common Core test called Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC); the tests were designed to “fail” 70% of students, as is the PARCC test. Both Common Core tests are aligned with the “cut scores” (passing marks) of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP “proficient” is set very high; Massachusetts is the only state where 50% of students rate proficient on NAEP.

Pelto points out that 90% of students with special needs are expected to fail SBAC.

The following letter by Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, appeared in the Wall Street Journal in response to a column by Eva Moskowitz about “The Myth of Charter Cherry Picking” (it is behind a paywall):


Mulgrew writes:



Eva Moskowitz must have been staring in the mirror when she wrote her latest screed about the “big lie” about charter vs. public schools (“The Myth of Charter-School ‘Cherry Picking,’” op-ed, Feb. 9). Even as others in the charter sector are beginning to acknowledge that differences in student demographics and attrition are a real problem in comparing charters to district schools, she and her organization have refused to admit that many charters don’t educate children with the same challenges as do public schools.


Let’s look at one among many examples—Success Academy 3 in Harlem. It shares a building with a local public school, but her charter has half as many English-language learners, fewer than a third as many special-education students and no “high-needs” students in the special-ed category versus 12% in the public school.


She also confuses student mobility with student attrition. Most schools in poor neighborhoods have high student turnover. But while public schools—and some charters—fill empty seats, Ms. Moskowitz’s schools don’t. According to state records, more than half the students in one Success Academy class left before graduation.


While Ms. Moskowitz cites a recent report from the city’s Independent Budget Office about student attrition in charters, she neglects to mention an earlier IBO report that found that it is the less successful students who tend to leave New York City charters. And as Princess Lyles and Dan Clark note “Keeping Precious Charter-School Seats Filled,” op-ed, Feb. 3), failure to fill these seats allows a school to maintain “the illusion of success,” as the percentage of proficient students rises.


So when Ms. Moskowitz and her allies claim that charters educate the same kinds of children as do the public schools, who is telling the truth?



Michael Mulgrew




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