Archives for category: Special Education

I read Jeff Bryant’s interview with the President-elect of NEA, Lily Eskelsen, and I think I love her.

She is smart, strong, and she doesn’t mince words.

She was a classroom teacher for many years, and she speaks from experience teaching many kinds of kids, including kids in special education and kids in a homeless shelter.

She knows that VAM is ridiculous.

She knows that tests can be valuable when used for diagnostic purposes, but harmful when used to pin a ranking on students, teachers, principals, and schools.

She gets it.

Here is a small part of the interview. Jeff asked why NEA delegates voted for a resolution calling on Duncan to resign.

“Bryant: So what’s the frustration for teachers?

“Eskelsen: Here’s the frustration – and I’m not blaming the delegates; I will own this; I share in their anger. The Department of Education has become an evidence-free zone when it comes to high stakes decisions being made on the basis of cut scores on standardized tests. We can go back and forth about interpretations of the department’s policies, like, for instance, the situation in Florida where teachers are being evaluated on the basis of test scores of students they don’t even teach. He, in fact, admitted that was totally stupid. But he needs to understand that Florida did that because they were encouraged in their applications for grant money and regulation waivers to do so. When his department requires that state departments of education have to make sure all their teachers are being judged by students’ standardized test scores, then the state departments just start making stuff up. And it’s stupid. It’s absurd. It’s non-defensible. And his department didn’t reject applications based on their absurd requirements for testing. It made the requirement that all teachers be evaluated on the basis of tests a threshold that every application had to cross over. That’s indefensible.

“Bryant: So any good the Obama administration has tried to accomplish for education has been offset by the bad?

“Eskelsen: Yes. Sure, we get pre-K dollars and Head Start, but it’s being used to teach little kids to bubble in tests so their teachers can be evaluated. And we get policies to promote affordable college, but no one graduating from high school gets an education that has supported critical and creative thinking that is essential to succeeding in college because their education has consisted of test-prep from Rupert Murdoch. The testing is corrupting what it means to teach. I don’t celebrate when test scores go up. I think of El Paso. Those test scores went up overnight. But they cheated kids out of their futures. Sure, you can “light a fire” and “find a way” for scores to go up, but it’s a way through the kids that narrows their curriculum and strips their education of things like art and recess.

“Bryant: Doesn’t Duncan understand that?

“Eskelsen: No. That reality hasn’t entered the culture of the Department of Education. They still don’t get that when you do a whole lot of things on the periphery, but you’re still judging success by a cut score on a standardized test and judging “effective” teachers on a standardized test, then you will corrupt anything good that you try to accomplish.”

Wow! This post will knock your socks off, unless you work for the U.S. Department of Education. The post was written by Mark NAISON, one of the co-founders of the BATs. (I don’t know why, but my iPad always converts Mark’s last name into all-caps.)

The Badass Teachers Association held a rally outside the U.S. Department of Education on July 28, and several were invited to meet with staff at the Office of Civil Rights to air their grievances and see if they could find common ground. After some talk, some of which was contentious, Arne Duncan dropped in unexpectedly and joined the conversation, but said he would talk about only two subjects:

“Secretary Duncan after introducing himself, and saying that he could only stay for a few minutes, asked for two things; first if we could articulate our concerns about the Department’s policies on dealing with Special needs students, and secondly, if Shoneice and Asean could step out with him to talk about what was going on in Chicago.

“In response to his first comment, Marla Kilfoyle started speaking about her concerns about Department from her standpoint of the parent of a special needs student as well as a teacher. She said it appeared that Department policies were forcing school districts to disregard individual student IEP’s and exposing special needs students to inappropriate and abusive levels of testing.

“Secretary Duncan deflected her remarks by saying that the Department was concerned that too many children of color were being inappropriately diagnosed as being Special Needs children and that once they were put in that category they were permanently marginalized. He then said “We want to make sure that all students are exposed to a rigorous curriculum.”

“At that point, I interrupted him in a very loud voice and said “ We don’t like the word ‘rigor.” We prefer to talk about creativity and maximizing students potential.”

“Secretary Duncan was somewhat taken aback by my comments. He said “ we might disagree about the language, but what I want is for all students to be able to take advanced placement courses or be exposed to an IB (International Baccalaureat) curriculum.

“At this point, Larry Proffitt interrupted the Secretary and said that in Tennessee, Special Needs students were being abused and humiliated by abusive and inappropriate testing and that their teachers knew this, and were afraid to speak out.

“We were clearly at an impasse here, which the Secretary dealt with by saying he had to leave and asking Shoneice and Asean to step into the hall with him and continue the conversation.”

This is a small part of a fascinating report on the BATs meeting at the DOE. When people ask me why I support them, I say, “They speak truth to power.” Here is the proof. Too many educators are docile and compliant. They are not.

Please read the whole post.

Do you think that Arne Duncan really believes that the greatest need of students with disabilities is access to rigorous AP and IB courses?

Courtney Bowie is a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program. In this article, she describes the ACLU’s efforts to stop discrimination against students with disabilities in Wisconsin’s voucher program. Privatization, she says, is promoting segregation and rolling back decades of legal advances for students of color and students with disabilities.

 

In Wisconsin and elsewhere, voucher supporters have fought efforts by the U.S. Department of Justice to oversee their voucher programs.

 

Bowie writes:

 

There are now over 20 states and the District of Columbia that use public funds to subsidize private school enrollment, whether it’s a tax credit for parents of students attending private schools or voucher programs, like the one in Wisconsin, that give a student a taxpayer-funded voucher worth a certain amount to pay private school tuition. These programs are touted as giving poor students, often in so-called “failing districts,” the same “choice” that wealthy students have. In Wisconsin and Indiana, these programs are springing up statewide and in public school districts that are not failing. The argument that these programs are an escape from failing school districts is rapidly falling apart as more and more programs are statewide and aimed at decreasing the tuition costs of students’ families who already can afford private schools.

 

As these public subsidies for private schools expand throughout the country, the civil rights umbrella available to public school students is at risk of folding. In some states like Georgia and Alabama, private schools benefiting from voucher or tax credit programs were founded as segregation academies to thwart federal integration efforts. While the program in Milwaukee and its school district serve almost entirely students of color, as “school choice” spreads around the country, the stage is set for these programs to become even more exclusionary and segregated. If states and local communities permit this to continue, they will cement the public funding of separate schools for only select groups of students, which evidence shows will disproportionately exclude racial minorities, students with disabilities, religious minorities, and LGBT students. This flies in the face of what we have known for the 60 years since Brown v. Board of Education — separate is not equal….

 

Voucher supporters in Wisconsin say Washington has declared war on them when it’s clear the Justice Department only wants to ensure school privatization doesn’t undermine the hard-fought gains of educational equity in the places most historically resistant to it. The only logical conclusion from this response is that voucher supporters fear oversight and want to continue to operate in a civil rights vacuum.

 

If that is their fear, then we know what the true purpose of Wisconsin’s voucher program is. It is to create segregated school systems, both in terms of race and in terms of disability. The result is a public school district deprived of the resources to educate its students and left with those most difficult to educate.

 

Stopping this from getting even worse would be a war worth fighting.

 

 

 

 

After Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced new rules for special education, requiring higher standards and more testing for students with disabilities, many teachers and parents debated this course of action on the blog. This teacher in Florida offered some real-life experience to inform the debate and, perhaps, the Secretary:

“Let me start by saying that I am an ESE teacher. I teach students with learning disabilities and language impairments. The students I have are in the unit they are in because they are at least two grade levels below their regular ed peers in reading.

“Currently, in Florida, we already have to give these students access to the same standards that their on-grade level peers enjoy. That has been the case for years. We already know that Florida tests pretty much everyone, no matter their disability. Again, this has been the case for years. I can’t believe that in this education environment that there are many other states that are significantly different. And yet, Arne is going to say that these students aren’t getting a quality education? That they aren’t held to high expectations?

To me, it is pretty obvious that these students are held to much higher expectations than their regular ed peers. It would be like telling two mountain climbers that they have to reach the same peak, but one of them will do it with both hands tied behind his back. Sure, he can have some accommodations. Someone can hold his rope steady. Someone else can yell out supportive verbal encouragement. He can even take longer breaks, and we’ll take away any time requirement (as long as he finishes in the same day that he started).

“The world of special ed was already insane. I’m not sure where this takes us. As I said, in my class, the students are all at least two years behind in reading. What I didn’t tell you is that I teach in an elementary school. What this means is that many of these 3-5th graders are non-readers. The few that can decode are either doing so at a kindergarten/first grade level or at a level approaching grade level but without any comprehension whatsoever of what they have just decoded. Despite this, they have the same designation on paper (or computer) that other LD kids have who are just slightly behind their regular ed peers.

“In Florida, as I imagine is the case in other states, we already track academic progress. You might think it would be as easy as seeing what they are capable of doing at the beginning of the year and then comparing that with what they are capable of at the end of the year. Not so. Remember, they are working on the same standards as their regular ed peers. And, so, they are tested with the same tests that their regular ed peers take. This means that a fourth grader who cannot read anything above “see sam run” is being tested on those “rigorous” non-fiction passages that are on a fourth grade level (not the fourth grade level of yesteryear but the new, improved 6th grade, I mean 4th grade level of today). And then we track their progress on a graph. If you’re thinking that these graphs look like random peaks and valleys, you are correct. When you cannot read and you are given a test, you are just going to guess. Which is what these students do. Sadly, they have become so inured to this that they guess on the few items that they actually are capable of doing.

“The federal government is already involved through NCLB, etc. These students count towards AYP. They count towards the school’s “grade.” The schools have every reason to give these students everything they’ve got, so why aren’t the slackers doing anything to give them a “quality education”? Well, they are. Florida is an RtI state. To get an ESE label, a student has to show that they are “resistant to interventions.” That is, they have to show that they require extensive interventions, that if they are weaned off of the interventions, they regress. Or, they have to show that despite intensive, research-based interventions, they are still showing no progress. In other words, before these students come to me, they have already received every intervention imaginable. In addition, even after they are found eligible for ESE services, they are usually started in a less restrictive environment. If none of this has worked, why should it work when they get to my class? Indeed, it had to be shown that it did not work in order for them to get into my class in the first place.

“Alas, I’m afraid I do not have a magic wand or a bag of pixie dust with which to work miracles. So, what is an ESE teacher to do? Most of us actually work with the studennts where they are at. And we move them forward from there. There is no huge spurt of growth (very rarely anyway), but they do make academic gains. None of these gains will show up on the regular ed grade level assessments, but they are there nonetheless. We’ve often wondered why these students aren’t given meaningful assessments that will show growth and that will actually tell us where these students are still struggling (thanks, FCAT, I already knew they couldn’t read on grade level). Now we know why. It’s to show that these students aren’t getting a “quality education.”

“I would tell you that these students, who are as bright as you or me, struggle immensely with academic subjects. That they are usually Language Impaired as well. That most of them are also ESOL students. That most of them come from low SES homes. That most of them come from single-parent households. That many of these parents come in to thank us because their child used to hate school and now they want to go. That their regular ed teachers in the past told us that they wouldn’t do anything in class, that they would shut down when anything was required of them, and now they are working in class. That through a lot of hard work and effort of both the teachers and students, the students get to a point where they stop saying, “I can’t do this, I’m stupid.” That non-writers become independent writers (legible despite the many spelling, grammar, and convention errors). That non-readers become readers (yes, still way behind their regular ed peers) and learn to enjoy reading. I would tell you these things, but it doesn’t matter because none of it shows up on the tests. The tests show that these students are not making any gains. And, as we all know, there are no excuses.”

Comments have been intense about Arne Duncan’s plan to hold states accountable for higher test scores for students with disabilities.

Peter Greene said his proposal was really bad. Really bad.

That set off a vigorous debate.

Here is the last word, from Peter Greene, on what Arne should have said (but didn’t).

Peter Greene writes that Arne Duncan has figured out why children with disabilities get lower test scores: Low expectations.

Greene writes:

“In announcing a new emphasis and “major shift,” the US Department of Education will now demand that states show educational progress for students with disabilities.

“Arne Duncan announced that, shockingly, students with disabilities do poorly in school. They perform below level in both English and math. No, there aren’t any qualifiers attached to that. Arne is bothered that students with very low IQs, students with low function, students who have processing problems, students who have any number of impairments– these students are performing below grade level.

“We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel,” Duncan said. (per NPR coverage)”

Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman agreed with Duncan.

Greene writes:

“And that’s not even the stupidest thing. We’re not there yet.

“Kevin Huffman, education boss of Tennessee, also chimed in on the conference call, to explain why disabled students do poorly, and how to fix it.

“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.

“That’s it. We should just demand that disabled students should do harder work and take more tests.

“When Florida was harassing Andrea Rediske to have her dying, mentally disabled child to take tests, they were actually doing him a favor, and not participating in state-sponsered abuse.”

So that’s the Department of Education’s solution for children with special needs: Give them harder work and test them more frequently. But why should that be surprising. That is the DOE’s idea for pre-K, for K, and for all children. Harder work and more tests.

Arne Duncan proposed new accountability standards for students with disabilities.

Claudio Sancez of NPR wrote:

“The Obama administration said Tuesday that the vast majority of the 6.5 million students with disabilities in U.S. schools today are not receiving a quality education, and that it will hold states accountable for demonstrating that those students are making progress.

“Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced what he calls “a major shift” in how the government evaluates the effectiveness of federally funded special education programs.”

He added:

“Under the new guidelines, Duncan says he’ll require proof that these kids aren’t just being served but are actually making academic progress.

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

States that don’t comply with the new guidelines might lose federal funding.

And now for a commentary on the new guidelines, written by BeverleyH. Johns, a national authority on special education. She is Illinois Special Education Coalition Chair for 32 years and was President of the Learning Disabilities Assn., President of the Council for Exceptional Children, and author of many books about students with disabilities.

In a widely circulated email Beverly Johns writes:

We know that when students with disabilities
are held to high expectations and have access
to the general curriculum in the regular classroom,
they excel.” Arne Duncan, June 24, 2014

Really? Where is the evidence that the general
curriculum in the regular classroom results
in such excellence for all students with disabilities?

It is just the kind broad general statement
that Arne Duncan is so fond of making.

The U.S. Department of Education today announced
new standards for judging States on special education.

The new system greatly reduces compliance enforcement
for IDEA, on the theory that States are in procedural
compliance with IDEA, in return for using NAEP test
results to judge educational outcomes for students in
special ed.

NAEP was NEVER designed or tested for any such purpose
(see below). NAEP is a test taken by a sample of
school districts from each State, every 2 years.

Below is my summary of the conference call hosted
by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today.

Conference call on new Special Ed requirements
for States, June 24, 2014.

USDOE plus two Commissioners of Education,
called Superintendents in some States -
Massachusetts (MA), Mitchell Chester, and
Tennessee (TN), Kevin Huffman.

TN: “States build up their little special education
units.” 40 percent of students with SLD can
achieve same test results as others – “not
students with significant cognitive disabilities.”
(last comment made several times by others)

MA: identifies 17 percent of students for SE.
Tom Hehir assisting them: double the number of
students in poverty identified for SE. More students
of color need to be in general ed classrooms.

USDOE: New system has fewer data reporting requirements,
no need for reporting on results of actions taken
on previous non-compliance, no need to have improvement
on previous indicators, etc.

Arne Duncan to the 2 Commissioners: “Other stuff we
should be looking at to eliminate?”

Reporter question: NAEP ever been used this way?
NAEP designed for high stakes testing?
NAEP designed for students with disabilities?

Duncan: “Only accurate measurement we have. Imperfect…”
“I would not call it high stakes.”
“NAEP given every 2 years.”

Reporter question: reinventing the wheel? If States
cannot meet requirements, then change the requirements
in 5 years?

USDOE: “We have to own these kids.”

MA: SE needs to be integrated into the mainstream.

Reporter question: What are the consequences?

Duncan: No real answer, withholding funds not his
first priority.

Reporter question: What outcomes? The same proficiency
for all students?

USDOE: Vast majority of students in SE must achieve to the
same high standard required by NAEP of all students.
“do not have cognitive disabilities”
Most students in SE now do not have access to content
standards or to the same assessment.

The tone of the call was set by having 2 non-experts in special ed, the 2 Commissioners.

Bev Johns

This is a report on charter school funding in Pennsylvania, especially the effect of excess special education funding for charter schools. It was
distributed by the Keystone State Education Coalition.

The KSEC writes:

“Each time charter schools skim marginal need special ed students out of public school districts, they artificially cause the average special ed cost to spiral higher for the next year’s special ed charter school tuition rate.

“YouTube Video: The $200 Million/Year PA Charter School Special Ed Funding Windfall For Dummies

“Would the special ed funding bill HB2138/SB1316 be the “end of charter schools as we know it”? It might be, especially for the operators of for-profit management companies that contract with charter schools. As best we can tell, instead of special ed money serving special needs students, it appears that the windfall has funded things like multi-million dollar CEO compensation, over 19,000 local TV commercials, a jet and Florida condo, generous political campaign contributions and a 20,000 square foot mansion on the beach in Palm Beach Florida. Here’s a three minute youtube video produced by KEYSEC Co-Chair Mark B. Miller that clearly explains how this happens.

Want more than a three minute video on this topic? Here’s a great piece by long-time ed writer Dale Mezzacappa for the notebook….

“City charters get $100M more for special ed than they spend; debate rages in Harrisburg”

the notebook By Dale Mezzacappa on June 5, 2014 02:12 PM

Philadelphia charter schools received more than $175 million last year to educate special education students, but spent only about $77 million for that purpose, according to aNotebook analysis of state documents. That is a nearly $100 million gap at a time when city education leaders are considering raising some class sizes to 41 students and laying off 800 more teachers in District-run schools due to severe funding shortfalls. Payments to charters, which are fixed under law, make up nearly a third of its $2.4 billion budget.

The issue goes beyond Philadelphia. Statewide, charters, including cybers, collect about $350 million for special education students, but spend just $156 million on them, according to calculations from the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO). The Notebook used the PASBO analysis of state data to calculate the numbers for Philadelphia, which has half the state’s 170 charter schools.

http://thenotebook.org/blog/147324/special-education-funding-formula-changes-recommended

Daily postings from the Keystone State Education Coalition now reach more than 3250 Pennsylvania education policymakers – school directors, administrators, legislators, legislative and congressional staffers, Governor’s staff, current/former PA Secretaries of Education, PTO/PTA officers, parent advocates, teacher leaders, education professors, members of the press and a broad array of P-16 regulatory agencies, professional associations and education advocacy organizations via emails, website, Facebook and Twitter

These daily emails are archived and searchable at http://keystonestateeducationcoalition.org
Visit us on Facebook at KeystoneStateEducationCoalition

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.

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