Archives for category: Special Education

A recent court decision in Connecticut, which ruled that the state’s property-tax based system of funding was inequitable and unconstitutional. The decision was hailed by the New York Times and others as a wonderful breakthrough for a “broken” school system. In some respect, that claim was right: a property-tax system is inherently inequitable, assuring that affluent districts are far better funded than poor ones.

But as Jonathan Pelto was first to point out, the decision contains a shocking dismissal of the rights of children with disabilities. Buried in the opinion is the judge’s belief that too much money is spent on such children.

The judge wrote:

““Yet school officials never consider the possibility that the education appropriate for some students may be extremely limited because they are too profoundly disabled to get any benefit from an elementary or secondary school education….It is about whether schools can decide in an education plan for a covered child that the child has a minimal or no chance for education, and therefore the school should not make expensive, extensive, and ultimately proforma efforts.”

In this article in the HECHINGER Report, it is clear that the Connecticut decision threatens millions of children with special needs and challenges federal law.

Why the school funding judgment in Connecticut could jeopardize education for America’s 6.5 million children with disabilities

This item appeared in for New York, but it is not posted online, so no link.

Betty Rosa, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, was elected with the help of the New York state opt out leaders.

By Keshia Clukey
09/12/2016 02:39 PM EDT

State Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa Monday called for New York State to be a national leader in taking a stand against the testing of English language learners and students with disabilities who are not ready to take the exams.

“I want us to take a super leadership role in our waiver,” Rosa said at the Regents meeting. The state has continued to apply for a federal testing waiver, but the request has yet to be granted.

“Not just children with disabilities, but with the English language learners, we know before they even take a test that they cannot,” Rosa said. “They don’t have [the] language proficiency to demonstrate their success story.”

Regents board member Roger Tilles agreed and said that former state Education Commissioner John King Jr. had signed on and sent the request for the federal testing waiver during his time in New York, but now as U.S. secretary of education has the power to act and has yet to act on it.

With the low proficiency rate of English language learners on the state exams, Regents board member Luis Reyes said, it could be taken up as a civil rights violation.

“Testing children who are recently arrived is child abuse, not to say bad education law or bad education policy,” he said.

Thanks to the website for pointing me to this shocking story. The Houston Chronicle did an investigation and discovered that state officials in Texas had set an arbitrary cap of 8.5 percent on the number of children who could receive special education services, thus saving the state billions of dollars. Consequently, many children who needed these services did not receive them. Kudos to the Houston Chronicle for a very important journalistic coup that reveals a malevolent state policy that hurts children, just to keep taxes low. Priorities?

During the first week of school at Shadow Forest Elementary, a frail kindergartner named Roanin Walker had a meltdown at recess. Overwhelmed by the shrieking and giggling, he hid by the swings and then tried to escape the playground, hitting a classmate and biting a teacher before being restrained.

The principal called Roanin’s mother.

“There’s been an incident.”

Heidi Walker was frightened, but as she hurried to the Humble school that day in 2014, she felt strangely relieved.

She had warned school administrators months earlier that her 5-year-old had been diagnosed with a disability similar to autism. Now they would understand, she thought. Surely they would give him the therapy and counseling he needed.

Walker knew the law was on her side. Since 1975, Congress has required public schools in the United States to provide specialized education services to all eligible children with any type of disability.

But what she didn’t know is that in Texas, unelected state officials have quietly devised a system that has kept thousands of disabled kids like Roanin out of special education.

Over a decade ago, the officials arbitrarily decided what percentage of students should get special education services — 8.5 percent — and since then they have forced school districts to comply by strictly auditing those serving too many kids.

Their efforts, which started in 2004 but have never been publicly announced or explained, have saved the Texas Education Agency billions of dollars but denied vital supports to children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, epilepsy, mental illnesses, speech impediments, traumatic brain injuries, even blindness and deafness, a Houston Chronicle investigation has found.

More than a dozen teachers and administrators from across the state told the Chronicle they have delayed or denied special education to disabled students in order to stay below the 8.5 percent benchmark. They revealed a variety of methods, from putting kids into a cheaper alternative program known as “Section 504” to persuading parents to pull their children out of public school altogether.

“We were basically told in a staff meeting that we needed to lower the number of kids in special ed at all costs,” said Jamie Womack Williams, who taught in the Tyler Independent School District until 2010. “It was all a numbers game.”

Texas is the only state that has ever set a target for special education enrollment, records show.

It has been remarkably effective.

In the years since its implementation, the rate of Texas kids receiving special education has plummeted from near the national average of 13 percent to the lowest in the country — by far.

In 2015, for the first time, it fell to exactly 8.5 percent.

If Texas provided services at the same rate as the rest of the U.S., 250,000 more kids would be getting critical services such as therapy, counseling and one-on-one tutoring.

“It’s extremely disturbing,” said longtime education advocate Jonathan Kozol, who described the policy as a cap on special education meant to save money.

“It’s completely incompatible with federal law,” Kozol said. “It looks as if they’re actually punishing districts that meet the needs of kids.”

Last week, a judge in Connecticut overturned the property-tax based system of funding and correctly noted that this system produces and reproduces inequity for the state’s neediest children.

Those who have read the decision saluted this finding but see errors in the judge’s statements about education policy.

Jan Resseger expresses her concerns about the decision here.

She explains that the New York Times’ front-page analysis was “wishful and foolishly simplistic.”

She quotes Wendy Lecker and Molly Hunter of the Education Law Center:

“At least Judge Moukawsher did declare the current system unconstitutional. Molly Hunter, in an analysis for the Education Law Center, explains: “Separately, the court dismissed the State’s claim that local school districts bore the responsibility for education, not the state. The court quoted Connecticut Supreme Court holdings: ‘Obviously, the furnishing of education for the general public is a state function and duty,’ and ‘…in Connecticut, education is a fundamental right,’ raising education to the most important level known to law.”

“Hunter identifies several additional serious problems in Judge Moukawsher’s decision: “If there was any one thing in the trial that stood out as good…. Witnesses for both sides agreed that high-quality preschool would be the best weapon to get ahead of the literacy and numeracy problems plaguing schools in impoverished cities. But, the court failed to order it.”

“Hunter continues: “In striking contrast, the court took deep dives into education policy regarding teacher evaluations and students with disabilities. The court ordered policy changes for teachers and other educators that are controversial and have been proven ineffective, even harmful… ”

“And finally, Hunter derides the decision’s impact on special education: “Also, many will find the court’s extensive discussion of students with disabilities and funding for their services troubling. The court indicated that funding for students with severe or multiple disabilities was irrational and not connected to ‘education’ if they were not capable of receiving an elementary and secondary education.”

Jonathan Pelto read the Connecticut judge’s funding decision, which many people were thrilled to see, and discovered that the judge harbors unbelievably negative views about spending money on children with profound disabilities. Pelto says that the judge’s views would set back special education by 40 years.

While the decision is an important milestone on the school funding issue, Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s Memorandum of Decision is nothing short of absurd, ill-conceived and simply wrong when it comes to Connecticut’s special education programs, the state’s illogical teacher evaluation system and the state’s over-reliance on the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC and SAT testing schemes.

In his ruling, Moukawsher actually suggests that students should face even more standardized testing in Connecticut’s classrooms.

And of greatest concern is his unwarranted, outrageous and mean-spirited attack on special education services in Connecticut’s schools.

The truth is that Connecticut has actually been a leader when it comes to providing special education services to those who need extra help in the classroom. While issues certainly exist when it comes to adequately identifying and providing services to those students who have special needs, the underlying problem is not that students get special education services, but that Connecticut’s cities and towns are left with an unfair share of the burden when it comes to financing those extra educational activities.

In Connecticut, there has been widespread consensus that society and the state have an obligation to ensure that every child is provided with the knowledge, skills and opportunities to live more fulfilling lives and that includes children with special needs.

Yet in an stunning diatribe, Judge Moukawsher appears to suggest that Connecticut retreat from that commitment.

Checker Finn wrote an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan (as did Marc Tucker and I, in large part to counter what Checker wrote).

Many readers wondered why anyone would write an open letter to the founder of Facebook and advise him what to do about reforming American education.

Nancy Bailey puts those concerns, that skepticism, and that sense of outrage into a post directed to Checker Finn.

Finn just wrote a letter to Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg for all of us to see, like we are the bystanders in their goofball, grand design of schools. Schools will no longer be public–other than they will still receive our tax dollars.

It is hard not to be struck by the arrogance of it all.

If one understands what a democracy is, and how it relates to public schools, they will be puzzled as to why Finn isn’t writing a letter to the American people–you know–the ones who are supposed to be the real owners of their schools.

But instead, he writes to Chan and Zuckerberg. He wants them to think about school reform. He sees them as the owners of America’s schools. They, like Gates and the other wealthy oligarchs, assume they know best how children learn because they made a lot of money and got rich.

She is especially repulsed by his reference to “personalized learning,” which is now a euphemism for sitting in front of a computer and letting the computer teach you. Some call it CBE, competency-based education, since the computer uses algorithms to judge your readiness for the next question or activity. The idea that computers might teach children with special needs is particularly troubling.

But real education is an exchange between people, not a machine and a person.

I have known Checker Finn for many years, almost forty. Our friendship was impaired when I left the board of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and publicly rejected school choice and high-stakes testing. I have always had a fondness for Checker and his family. But Checker went to Exeter, and his wonderful children also went to elite private schools. I don’t begrudge them that, but I think Checker really is out of touch with public education and with the work of teachers in public schools. I am not making excuses for him, just explaining why I think he really doesn’t understand the disastrous consequences of the ideas he has promoted and believes in–for other people’s children.

Julian Vasquez Heilig reports on his blog that the ACLU in Southern California has released a report finding that 20% or more of the state’s charter schools are breaking state and federal laws.

This is very likely the tip of the iceberg and signals that the state should launch a full investigation of illegal activities in charter schools.

Here is the full report.

Will the state dare to investigate privately managed schools that operate with little or no supervision? Will they dare to cross the state’s most powerful lobby, the California Charter Schools Association?

A reader writes:

“In the non-public special education field, we generally feel the residual effects of educational policies and changes. Right now we’re feeling the effects of Common core and PARCC and not in such a positive way. Common Core Standards “do not define the intervention methods or materials necessary to support students who are well below or well above grade-level expectations,” but our students with disabilities must participate at the same level and with the same rigor as their “non-disabled” peers in PARCC assessments.

 Our IEP’s must be standards-based, aligned to their grade level and our teaching must be aligned to the Maryland CCR Standards at the students grade level. The problem, however, is that the majority of our students are functioning 3 to 4 grade levels below their non-disabled peers and our teachers are struggling to help them acquire and demonstrate a few skills successfully. 

How then do we prepare our students effectively for an assessment that will test them on the very standards they fail to understand? Our students with ED, anxiety, depression, ADHD, and autism have already been formally tested by teachers and related services providers multiple times before even reaching PARCC season. When is enough enough? There has to be a better way to assess their learning.

Do not underestimate the effectiveness of the Opt Out movement in New York.


Governor Cuomo, who made education policy his big issue last year, has gone off on other issues.


The Board of Regents is now led by an experienced educator who has the support of the Opt Out parents.


And Dr. Betty Rosa has not disappointed.


At a recent forum, she said that standardized testing was “abusive” for some students with disabilities and English language learners.


This is a new tone coming from New York State’s highest education official.


It conflicts rather sharply with the pro-testing, pro-Common Core, anti-opt out policies of the state commissioner MaryEllen Elia. This should be interesting.




This is a wonderful story that was broadcast on NPR about an emergency situation in an airplane bound for Melbourne, Australia.


A young man with Down Syndrome was physically ill, lying in the middle of the aisle, and wouldn’t get up.


And he was really upset. He was feeling itchy. He was feeling scared, and no one could move him at that time.


The plane couldn’t land until he was in his seat and belted in.


The call went out from the cockpit, “Is there a teacher on the plane?”


Sophie Murphy, who teaches children with special needs, responded. She lay down on the floor next to the boy and talked to him. Eventually, she talked him into getting up and returning to his seat. Everyone was very quiet and listened closely as she used her skills to calm the boy. When he started vomiting, they rushed to offer sick bags, tissues, and wipes. A doctor sitting close by took notes.


Nothing fazed Sophie. She handled the situation with professionalism and kindness.


She said afterwards:


This was what teachers do. This is what they do in their classrooms every day. They problem solve, and they connect with children on a daily basis. And any one of my colleagues and friends who are teachers would have done exactly the same.