Archives for category: Special Education

Michael Mulgrew is president of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers, the largest local in the nation and in the American Federation of Teachers.

He published this article in the New York Daily News, which is strongly pro-charter and often writes about the “success” of the city’s charter schools compared to its public schools. Mulgrew explains here the secrets of charter “success.”

The research behind his article is here. 

Careful selection, exclusion, and attrition are keys to charter success.

Mulgrew writes:

Cheerleaders for New York City’s charter school sector typically trumpet the academic achievements of charter school students.

But there is an inconvenient truth about these schools that charter supporters rarely discuss, or even admit. The schools’ “success” is due not to any superior instructional strategy but rather to segregation — segregation based on students’ academic and social needs.

Though charters are open to all by lottery, as a group they enroll a significantly smaller percentage than public schools of our neediest children, such as English language learners, special education students or those from the poorest families. Children like these typically have the largest learning challenges.

For the 2018-19 school year, for example, the latest for which data is available, charters as a group enrolled half the citywide average of ELLs (6.9% vs. a citywide average of 14.6%) and a third of the special education students with the highest level of need (1.7% vs. a citywide average of 5.4%).

But the charter sector average turns out to be only half the story. An analysis of individual charter schools clearly shows that the schools most successful at excluding these kinds of students turn out to be — no surprise — the charters with the highest test scores.

As measured by the most recent state English language exam, the most academically successful charters (those with a pass rate of 67% or higher) had even fewer English Language Learners and special ed students.

That’s not a bug in the charter world; it’s a feature. Throughout the charter sector, as the number of children with academic and other needs grows, the average proficiency rate on the state test declines, to the point that the nearly 50 charters with the highest percentages of needy children don’t even reach the citywide average on the state reading exam.

How do many charters — particularly those most successful on standardized tests — find ways to minimize the number of pupils unlikely to contribute to that success?

They start with highly committed families, those with a knowledge of the system and the motivation to enter their children in the charter lottery.

Robert Pondiscio, who has many sympathies for charters, wrote most recently that the idea that essentially the same kinds of students attend both public schools and charters, while “deeply satisfying to charter school advocates…is also misleading and even false” because of the critical nature of this parental motivation.

The next step in the charter success strategy is to find ways to ease out kids less likely to be successful. A key tactic is using suspensions to persuade students who do not fit well to find other schools.

Our analysis shows that less academically successful charters actually gained students over time. However, the most academically successful charters also showed significant attrition — a loss of more than one-quarter of the pupils who started in the cohort that began in 2010.

Were all those pupils who left the top charters academic stars? Or, as is much more likely, are the top charters consciously shedding weaker students and reaping the benefits in terms of higher test scores?

State data shows that charters as a group suspended students far more frequently than public schools did, and that the top charters — with a suspension rate of more than 8% — led the way.

Public school students in more than 100 schools have given up labs, libraries, music rooms and other facilities to charters that have been co-located in their buildings.

The bill for charters continues to grow. Some $2.4 billion in city Department of Education funds will be diverted in the coming fiscal year to charter operations, and current charters, even with no further regulatory or legislative action, are scheduled to expand their grades in future years.

Enormous public investments are going to too many schools that fail to educate the neediest students, and then rely on such exclusion to fuel their claims of success.

 

 

 

 

The Sun-Sentinel in Florida wrote about the problem of “violent students,” who can’t be removed from school because they are protected by law.

I hope to hear from Florida teachers about this investigation.

In an eight-month investigation, the South Florida Sun Sentinel found that a sweeping push for “inclusion” enables unstable children to attend regular classes even though school districts severely lack the support staff to manage them.

State and federal laws guarantee those students a spot in regular classrooms until they seriously harm or maim others. Even threatening to shoot classmates is not a lawful reason to expel the child.

Violent students have injured thousands of teachers, bus drivers and staff in Broward County alone and undoubtedly thousands more across Florida, records obtained by the Sun Sentinel show.

“It’s just a no-win scenario right now,” said attorney Julie Weatherly, of Mobile, Alabama, who advises school districts on the legal complexities of removing aggressive students when they have a disability. “Nobody wants a Parkland, of course. It’s this huge nightmare.”

The federal law had a noble purpose when enacted more than four decades ago, long before the ranks of violent students swelled. It ensured that students with disabilities received an education in the same classrooms as their peers, a practice known as mainstreaming.

Florida went even further, requiring agreement from the parents, or a judge, before transferring a disabled child to a special-needs school with more therapeutic services and smaller class sizes.

Looking for help for you or someone you know? See a list of mental health resources here.

The drawback today is that the law treats a student with a severe behavioral disorder the same as a harmless student with Down syndrome, ordering that they be educated in regular classrooms unless it’s proven impossible.

To understand how schools became targets of deadly threats and violence, the Sun Sentinel interviewed more than 50 teachers, parents and experts; examined state and national laws and policies; and reviewed thousands of pages of police reports and court records. The records included Florida’s new risk protection orders, created by the Legislature after the Parkland shooting to keep guns away from dangerous people. Most counties had never released the records before.

In only 18 months, more than 100 unstable and potentially dangerous students across Florida have threatened to kill their teachers, classmates or themselves, records from 10 major counties show. Nearly half of the youths had histories of mental disorders, and more than half had access to guns.

Just wondering whether charter schools and religious schools are bound by the same laws or whether they have the right to expel the students they can’t handle.

 

 

Valerie Strauss wrote a column in her Answer Sheet blog at the Washington Post about the two most horrifying stories in the past decade of high-stakes standardized testing. Both occurred in Florida, a state where standardized testing is treated as an unerring and essential metric, except for students who use state money to attend religious schools, which are exempt from the state’s testing regime.

So devoted is Florida to standardized testing that all its legislators, the governor and the State Commissioner Richard Corcoran (whose wife runs a charter school) should be required to take the tests required of eighth graders and publish their scores.

You should subscribe to the Washington Post just to read Valerie Strauss.

Strauss writes:

Of all of the absurd and appalling stories that emerged from the standardized test-based school reform movement in the 2010s, there were two that, arguably, best revealed to me how bankrupt and even cruel some of the things policymakers foisted on children could be….

There were stories about teachers being evaluated on the test scores of students they didn’t have and subjects they didn’t teach.

There were stories of high-performing teachers getting poor evaluations because of complicated and problematic algorithms that were used to calculate their “worth” in class — which some reformers said could be ascertained by eliminating every single other factor (even hunger and chronic grief) that could affect how well a child does on a test….

But there were two that still resonate deeply and reveal just how vacant — and mean — some of the policy was. Why recount them? Because as new school reform efforts are being implemented, it is worth remembering that good intentions are not enough and that bad policy has real and sometimes extreme effects on children and adults.

One of these stories was from 2013, when the state of Florida required a 9-year-old boy who was born without the cognitive portion of his brain to take a version of the state’s standardized Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). The boy, Michael, was blind, couldn’t talk or understand basic information. Judy Harris, the operator and owner of a care facility for children in Orlando where Michael was left shortly after birth, told News 13 at the time:

Michael loves music, he loves to hear, and he loves for you to talk to him and things like that, but as far as testing him, or questioning him on what is an apple and a peach, what is the difference? Michael wouldn’t know what that is.”

But the rules said every student could take a test and be evaluated, however severe their disabilities might be. I wrote about the situation at the time and asked education officials in the Florida Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education why this was happening. They all said every student could be assessed. At the time I wrote:

State Rep. Linda Stewart of Orlando told me she didn’t think that a young boy who can’t tell the difference between an apple and a peach should be taking any test, and tried to get officials in the Education Department to step in to stop the charade of Michael taking a test.
She said nobody did. “Nobody wanted to take the responsibility of stopping it,” she said.
Rick Roach, an Orange County, Florida, school board member who was following Michael’s story, confirmed that Michael was in fact forced to take the test, meaning that a state employee sat down and read it to him, as if he could actually understand it.

In 2013, Roach had told Michael’s story to educator Marion Brady, who wrote about it for The Answer Sheet. I recently asked Roach about Michael’s status and he said Michael, now 15, still lives at the home run by Harris.

The second disturbing story was about a boy in Florida named Ethan Rediske, who suffered a brain injury at birth and had cerebral palsy, epilepsy, cortical blindness and the developmental equivalency of a 6-month-old child. He died on Feb. 7, 2014.

In 2013, Ethan was forced to “take” a version of the FCAT over the space of two weeks because Florida still required every student to take one. His mother, educator Andrea Rediske, managed to obtain a waiver so that he didn’t have to take the test in 2014, but it turned out there was a hitch. As Ethan was in a morphine coma dying in a hospital, the state insisted that his family prove he deserved the waiver. The ugliness of the situation was captured in the following email she wrote to Orange County School Board member Rick Roach and to reporter Scott Maxwell, who wrote about Ethan and similar cases for the Orlando Sentinel:

Rick and Scott,
I’m writing to appeal for your advocacy on our behalf. Ethan is dying. He has been in hospice care for the past month. We are in the last days of his life. His loving and dedicated teacher, Jennifer Rose has been visiting him every day, bringing some love, peace, and light into these last days. How do we know that he knows that she is there? Because he opens his eyes and gives her a little smile. He is content and comforted after she leaves.
Jennifer is the greatest example of what a dedicated teacher should be. About a week ago, Jennifer hesitantly told me that the district required a medical update for continuation of the med waiver for the adapted FCAT. Apparently, my communication through her that he was in hospice wasn’t enough: they required a letter from the hospice company to say that he was dying. Every day that she comes to visit, she is required to do paperwork to document his “progress.” Seriously? Why is Ethan Rediske not meeting his 6th-grade hospital homebound curriculum requirements? BECAUSE HE IS IN A MORPHINE COMA. We expect him to go any day. He is tenaciously clinging to life.This madness has got to stop. Please help us.
Thank you,
Andrea Rediske

The cases of Michael and Ethan were not isolated. Since that time, the national obsession with standardized testing has somewhat abated. Many states have moved away from evaluating teachers by test scores and reduced the consequences for low scores. Yet most students are still required to take standardized tests, and problems with them remain.

These stories are two I don’t believe I will ever forget.

Liat Olenick was a charter school teacher. Fatima Geidi was a parent of a charter student.

They write in a joint article that proposals by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren should not be controversial. Charter advocates have reacted fiercely against any effort to regulate the privately-run schools. But, say the authors, charters will improve if they are both accountable and transparent, as Sanders and Warren propose.

They write:

 

As a former charter school parent and a former charter school teacher, we support these proposals – and we believe, that if implemented both at the federal level and with a similar approach at the state level, this agenda would actually improve charter schools while also limiting some of the harm they have done to district public schools.

First, a little about our experiences, which are, sadly, far from unique. 

I, Liat, spent my first year teaching at a Brooklyn charter school that was started by non-educators and suffered from extreme turnover in administrators and staff. We had six principals over the course of the first year, and ten teachers either quit or were fired. We also lost special education students because our school wouldn’t or couldn’t provide the services they needed. Instead, they were sent to nearby public schools. Now that I work in a public school in District 14, we experience the reverse process — my school has no choice but to accept the many students pushed out by charter schools when they don’t conform to their rigid academic or behavioral expectations.

I, Fatima, am a single mother whose son was suspended over 30 times by his charter school, Upper West Success Academy, starting in first grade, including for very minor issues, such as walking up the stairs too slowly. He was also denied his mandated special education services, which worsened the situation. The school demanded that I pick him up so frequently in the middle of the day that I was forced to drop out of college myself. When I finally pulled him out of the school, his therapist told me he suffered from symptoms of post-traumatic stress. 

Then when my son and I were subsequently interviewed on the PBS Newshour about how he had been treated at the school, Success Academy officials at the network sent copies of his disciplinary files, full of trumped-up charges, to every education reporter they could find and posted it online. Eva Moskowitz, the Success Academy CEO, also recounted false stories about his behaviorin her published memoirs. 

Although the US Department of Education eventually found her and the school guilty of violating the federal student privacy law called FERPA more than three years after I filed my initial complaint, Success officials have refused to comply with the law and continue to retaliate in the same way against other parents who dare to speak out against the unfair treatment of their children by releasing their confidential files to reporters. Meanwhile, the New York State Education Department has confirmed that Success Academy has systematically failed to provide students with their mandated special education services, even after having been ordered to do so by hearing officers.

Since my son left Success Academy, he is slowly recovering, and is now doing better in high school, but it took him years to undo the damage he experienced. I have met many other parents whose children suffered similar or worse fates. Success Academy charters are currently facing five different federal education lawsuits for violating student rights, and yet are the fastest growing charter chain in the state of New York, having received more than $60 million in grants from the federal government since 2006 to aid in their expansion and replication.

Bill Phillis posted this powerful letter on his blog for the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding.

The Honorable Michael DeWine

77 S. High Street, Suite 30

Columbus, OH 43215


Dear Governor DeWine,

The headline of an article in the October 27, 2019 ​Youngstown Vindicator ​reads: “DeWine Says HB70 Must Be Replaced.”


We are happy to learn that you want to maintain local control of public schools, and that you are not a supporter of House Bill 70, the state legislation allowing state takeover of public schools with failing grades, as Youngstown, Lorain, and East Cleveland have experienced. However, we are concerned with your statement that a “remedial plan” or “outside consultants” may be needed, as stated in the ​Vindicator ​article.


We are the Northeastern Ohio AFT retiree chapter, NEO-AFT #279-R. We have over 1,000 members in our group, and are members of the state and national affiliates, the Ohio Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers. Our membership includes retired teachers, administrators, speech/language therapists, school psychologists, guidance counselors, librarians, and paraprofessionals from all over northeastern Ohio.


We–educators and related-service personnel–are the experts you can rely on. ​We represent a rich range of educational training, knowledge, and experience.


We know from research and experience that:


Parental income is the single most influential factor in a child’s academic performance.


Let us repeat:


The single most important influence on a child’s academic performance is their parents’ income.


Therefore, it is understandable that most children in high-income suburbs get higher test scores and better grades, and more children in poor districts get lower scores and lower grades. This is the case for the Youngstown, Lorain, and East Cleveland School Districts, where ​100% of the children enrolled are living at or below the State Poverty Level. ​However, the children’s low performance on standardized tests is not due to bad teachers, bad schools, or bad local Boards of Education.


Many children living in poor neighborhoods start school handicapped on their very first day. Poverty is a major contributing cause of frequent absenteeism, psychological trauma, health problems including mental health issues, poor nutrition, limited social skills, and much more.


What is needed to combat the effects of poverty are wrap-around school programs including tutoring, and social services including medical, dental, visual, psychological/counseling services, 
during and after the school day.

The Cincinnati Public Schools are an excellent model. They have successfully created Community Learning Centers (CLC) in all their schools. Since launching their program in 2002, their CLC model has drawn national attention for successfully engaging community partnerships in school buildings.


Another model is the Say Yes to Education program. The Cleveland Metropolitan School District is in its first year of Say Yes to Education Cleveland. This dual-approach program provides the incentive of last-dollar post-high school scholarships for students, along with the essential wrap- around social supports for students and their families from preschool through graduation.


Providing these services to struggling districts like Youngstown, Lorain, and East Cleveland would require additional school funding from the state and/or other entities, but would pay off in significant academic and social gains for these communities.


Educators can and should be involved in developing any remedial plans. They are the experts, and they know what their students and families need.


We recommend:


• End HB 70 completely;
• Add additional health and social services, such as medical, dental, vision, counseling;
• Add additional academic support services;
• Add wrap-around programs, such as robust after-school programs including tutoring and physical activities.


Our public schools are one of the last democratic institutions in America, and we do not want to lose this valuable part of our nation. Most American Nobel prize winners are graduates of their local public schools. In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville, the French diplomat, political scientist, historian, and author, wrote in his famous book, ​Democracy in America, ​about the wisdom of local community decision-making as a unique characteristic of American towns.


We hope you use this information as a guide to ending HB70.


Sincerely,


Lois Romanoff, M.Eds., Ed.S. Retired School Psychologist, Cleveland Metropolitan School District and NEO-AFT 279-R Member
Teresa Green, President, and the Executive Council of the NEO-AFT 279-R

 

The expose published by ProPublic and the Chicago Tribune about the isolation of students with disabilities in locked “quiet rooms” got immediate response from the Governor and the State Board of Education in Illinois.

This is known as seclusion.

The governor said he will introduce legislation to end and prohibit the barbaric practice. 

The Illinois State Board of Education announced Wednesday that it will take emergency action to end the seclusion of children alone behind locked doors at schools, saying the practice has been “misused and overused to a shocking extent.”

Responding to a Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois investigation published a day earlier, Gov. J.B. Pritzker called the isolation of children in the state “appalling” and said he directed the education agency to make emergency rules for schools. He will then work with legislators to make the rules into law, he said.

The rules would not totally ban the use of timeout rooms but would end isolation. The state board said children would be put in timeout only if a “trained adult” is in the room and the door is unlocked. Timeouts also must be used only for therapeutic reasons or to protect the safety of students and staff, the board said.

The board also said it will begin collecting data on all instances of timeout and physical restraint in Illinois schools and will investigate “known cases of isolated seclusion to take appropriate disciplinary and corrective action.” State officials had not previously monitored these practices.

H/T to Laura Chapman for alerting me to this important news.

ProPublica and the Chicago Tribune collaborated to produce this shocking investigation of the mistreatment and abuse of students with special needs in Illinois.

This is a story of shameful cruelty to children. Read it and weep.

THE SPACES have gentle names: The reflection room. The cool-down room. The calming room. The quiet room.

But shut inside them, in public schools across the state, children as young as 5 wail for their parents, scream in anger and beg to be let out.

The students, most of them with disabilities, scratch the windows or tear at the padded walls. They throw their bodies against locked doors. They wet their pants. Some children spend hours inside these rooms, missing class time. Through it all, adults stay outside the door, writing down what happens.

In Illinois, it’s legal for school employees to seclude students in a separate space — to put them in “isolated timeout” — if the students pose a safety threat to themselves or others. Yet every school day, workers isolate children for reasons that violate the law, an investigation by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois has found.

Children were sent to isolation after refusing to do classwork, for swearing, for spilling milk, for throwing Legos. School employees use isolated timeout for convenience, out of frustration or as punishment, sometimes referring to it as “serving time.”

For this investigation, ProPublica Illinois and the Tribune obtained and analyzed thousands of detailed records that state law requires schools to create whenever they use seclusion. The resulting database documents more than 20,000 incidents from the 2017-18 school year and through early December 2018.

Of those, about 12,000 included enough detail to determine what prompted the timeout. In more than a third of these incidents, school workers documented no safety reason for the seclusion…

No federal law regulates the use of seclusion, and Congress has debated off and on for years whether that should change. Last fall, a bill was introduced that would prohibit seclusion in public schools that receive federal funding. A U.S. House committee held a hearing on the issue in January, but there’s been no movement since.

Nineteen states prohibit secluding children in locked rooms; four of them ban any type of seclusion. But Illinois continues to rely on the practice. The last time the U.S. Department of Education calculated state-level seclusion totals, in 2013-14, Illinois ranked No. 1.

The story contains stories of children locked in small rooms, where they urinate on themselves, bang on the walls and doors and scratch them. Some of the children have serious mental or emotional disorders. Some are disobedient. None deserves to be treated with such inhumanity. Experts say that punitive “seclusion” is not only cruel but ineffective.

After reading this report, I asked ProPublica where seclusion has been banned.

This was the answer:

These four states ban any type of seclusion (Georgia, Hawaii, Nevada, Pennsylvania) and that these are the remaining 15 you’re looking for: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Utah, Wisconsin, Wyoming (with varying levels of exceptions).

Thanks to ProPublica for shedding light on this horrible practice.

 

After Elizabeth Warren released her bold K-12 education plan, with massive funding increases for poor students (Title1) and for students with disabilities, the charter lobby reacted with outrage because she also announced that she would eliminate the federal Charter Schools Program. The CSP has been not only wasteful and ineffective but has been used by Betsy DeVos as her personal slush fund, to reward corporate charter chains and charter advocacy organizations.

Carol Burris and Kevin Welner explain here why Warren’s plan would benefit all needy students, including those enrolled in charter schools. Educators should welcome her plan, whether they are in public schools or charter schools.

Please share widely, tweet and distribute.

One charter school in the Chester-Upland district in Pennsylvania enrolls 60% of the district’s elementary schools. It is owned by one of the richest men in the state, a lawyer who was Republican Tom Corbett’s biggest campaign donor. That charter school, the Chester Community Charter School, has asked the county to turn all of the district’s elementary students over to charters. 

CCCS is not just any charter. It has received special treatment, despite its poor performance.

More than 4,300 students in kindergarten through eighth grade are already enrolled in Chester Community Charter, which is managed by CSMI. The for-profit education management company was founded by Vahan Gureghian, a Gladwyne lawyer and major Republican donor. It manages another charter school in Atlantic City that was placed on probation by the New Jersey Department of Education this year. A third charter in Camden was previously closed due to poor academic performance. 

In an earlier post, I described how CCCS made a deal in 2017 to win authorization until 2026, which is an unprecedented extension for any charter. In that post, I noted:

Its test scores are very low. Only 16.7% were proficient in English language arts, compared to a state average of 63%. Only 7% were proficient in mathematics, compared to a state average of 45%.

By most metrics, this charter school is a failing school, yet it gets preferential treatment. The scores in the charter school are below those of the remaining public schools in the district.

CCCS promised not to open a high school if it received a new extension. The decision was made by the court-appointed receiver for the district, which had been pushed into near-bankruptcy by CCCS; the receiver had been treasurer for the Corbett campaign. Just a coincidence, no doubt.

The Chester-Upland school district was hammered by a court decision that requires it to send large payments for students with special needs who enroll in cyber charters, even though the cyber charters provide minimal or no services to those students; the cyber charters are a voracious aspect of the state’s landscape, gobbling up full funding while failing to produce any academic gains for students or to meet any state standards.

Brick-and-mortar CCCS is so aggressive that it buses in students from Philadelphia, little children who ride a bus 2-3 hours each way to attend a failing charter school.

This latest move will strip the Chester-Upland District of more funding, leaving it with only a high school.

The charters are akin to a vulture, hollowing out the district and drawing students to low-performing charters with promises.

 

The board of Alabama’s first charter school, LEAD Academy, fired its principal, Nicole Ivey, and she is retaliating with a lawsuit that airs the school’s dirty laundry. 

Those named in the suit include Charlotte Meadows, the school’s founder and board president who is also running for the Alabama Legislature; Soner Tarim; owner of Unity School Services, an education service provider; Unity School Services; and each of the school’s board members: Ryan Cantrell, William Green and Lori White….

The suit claims LEAD’s objective is to “maximize school revenue and academic achievement by minimizing the presence of students with special needs.”

Prior to the enrollment application window opening, the suit claims Meadows expressed that she did not want special education children enrolled in the school. When it was explained to Meadows that the law prohibits discrimination against this group of children, the suit claims that Meadows responded that “We’re a charter school. We don’t have to follow the law,”: or words to that effect…”
Meadows, a former Montgomery County Board of Education president, is currently running for the Alabama House of Representatives District 74 seat. The lawsuit claims that Meadows actively ran her campaign out of the school’s finance office during hours of operation…
Prior to the school opening, the Montgomery Area Association of Realtors donated $200,000 to LEAD Academy. The suit claims half of that was put into a bank account that was solely managed by the school’s board president, Meadows, and one board member, White.

To Ivey’s knowledge at the time of her separation with the school, “none of the remaining $100,000 was expended to support the education programs at LEAD Academy,” the suit claims.

And then she gets to the nepotism and cronyism.