Archives for category: Special Education

Nancy Bailey is hopeful that 2021 will bring a new agenda for public schools and their students and teachers.

All are worried about the pandemic and whether there will be the resources to protect students and staff.

There will surely be a teacher shortage due to the numbers of teachers who felt threatened by returning to school when it was not safe, as well as the necessity to reduce class sizes to make social distancing a reality.

The need for social justice should be high on the agenda, and it has nothing to do with vouchers and school choice.

Students with disabilities have been seriously affected by the pandemic and need extra instruction and resources.

The pandemic threw a harsh light on the condition of school infrastructure. Many states have not invested in school facilities. Will they?

The arts were dropped in many schools during the disastrous reign of NCLB and Race to the Top. Today they are needed more than ever.

What will become of assessment? Will the new Secretary follow those who think that testing produces equity? Or will he listen to teachers and parents? Twenty years of federally mandated testing produced a static status quo, locking the neediest students into their place in the social hierarchy and denying them equality of educational opportunity.

The New York Times published an editorial correctly blasting Betsy DeVos as the worst Secretary of Education in the 40-year history of the Department of Education. Unfortunately, the balance of the editorial was a plea to administer tests to find out how far the nation’s children had fallen behind because of the pandemic.

This is a misguided proposal, as I have explained many times on this blog. See here.

The Times wrote in this editorial:

Given a shortage of testing data for Black, Hispanic and poor children, it could well be that these groups have fared worse in the pandemic than their white or more affluent peers. The country needs specific information on how these subgroups are doing so that it can allocate educational resources strategically.

Beyond that, parents need to know where their children stand after such a sustained period without much face-to-face instruction. Given these realities, the new education secretary — whoever he or she turns out to be — should resist calls to put off annual student testing.

The annual federally mandated testing will not answer these questions, at a cost of $1 billion or more.

The information the Times wants could have been efficiently collected by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which tests scientific samples of students in reading and mathematics every other year. The cost would have been substantially less than testing every single student in grades 3-8.

But DeVos canceled the 2021 administration of NAEP. NAEP would have provided voluminous amounts of data about student progress, disaggregated by race, gender, English learner status, and disability status. Everything the Times’ editorial board wants to know would have been reported by NAEP, with no stakes for students, teachers, and schools. No student takes the entire test. The sampling is designed to establish an accurate snapshot of every defined group, and there is a timeline stretching back over decades.

So now, as the editorial demonstrates, the pressure is on to give the annual tests to every single student. The results will be useless. The teachers are usually not allowed to see the questions, never allowed to discuss them, and never allowed to learn how individual students performed on specific questions. The results will be reported 4-6 months after students take the test. The students will have a new teacher. The students will get a score, but no one will get any information about what students do or don’t know.

The tests will show that students in affluent districts have higher scores than students who live in poor districts. Students who are English language learners and students with disabilities, on a average, will have lower scores than students who are fluent in English and those without disabilities. This is not a surprise. This is what the tests show every year.

If Secretary-designate Cardona needs to know how to allocate resources, he doesn’t need the annual tests for direction. He already knows what the tests will tell him. Federal funds should go where the needs are greatest, where low-income students are concentrated, where the numbers of English learners and students with disabilities are concentrated. The nation doesn’t need to spend $1 billion, more or less, to confirm the obvious.

Anyone who thinks that it is necessary or fair to give standardized tests this spring is out of touch with the realities of schooling. More important than test scores right now is the health and safety of students, teachers, and staff.

Advice to the New York Times editorial board: Talk to teachers.


The National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education has released a study of charter schools and special education by doctoral candidate Katherine Parham at Teachers College, Columbia University.

From the dawn of the charter movement, the subject of charter schools and special education has generated significant controversy.

Albert Shanker cautioned in a Washington Post op-ed in 1994 that the freedom from state and local regulations sought for charter schools would mean control over admissions and thus exclusion of “difficult-to-educate students.” A decade later, Martin Carnoy and his co-authors documented in The Charter School Dust-Up: Examining the Evidence on Enrollment and Achievement (2005) that high-achieving charter middle schools enrolled far more students with strong academic records than neighboring public schools as well as far fewer English-language learners and students with special needs. Similarly, Gary Miron and his co-authors documented in a 2011 study of a major charter management organization (CMO) that it not only managed to screen out a disproportionate number of underperforming students but also shed those who failed to fulfill behavioral and academic expectations. In a 2018 study, Peter Bergman and Isaac McFarlin Jr. documented that charter schools were significantly less responsive than traditional public schools to inquiries from parents of potential applicants with special needs.

Substantiating the concerns of Shanker and the findings of scholars subsequently analyzing this issue was a 2012 report published by the U.S. Government Accountability Office determining that in 2008-2009, 11.3 percent of students in traditional public schools were classified with special needs while 7.7 percent of students in charter schools belonged to the same cohort; in 2009-10, the numbers were 11.2 percent and 8.2 percent, respectively. According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Education, published in 2016, the numbers were 12.8 percent and 10.8 percent, respectively.

In “Charter Schools and Special Education: Institutional Challenges and Opportunities for Innovation,” Katharine Parham explores this gap and the evolution of federal law designed to prevent discrimination against students with special needs. Parham, a doctoral candidate in education policy at Teachers College, concedes the existence of “discriminatory practices, such as ‘cropping off’ service to students whose disabilities make them among the costliest to educate, counseling out students with severe needs, or advising families of students with disabilities not to apply.” However, Parham contends two other factors explain some of the gap: variation in rates of classification of special needs by charter schools and traditional public schools as well as disparities in funding. In addition, Parham analyzes potential remedies for improving the provision of special education by charter schools.

Dispassionate, clear, and concise, this working paper should prove instructive and helpful to policymakers and scholars alike.

Samuel E. Abrams
Director, NCSPE
August 10, 2020

Coming soon: Helen Ladd and Mavzuna Turaeva on charter schools and segregation in North Carolina; Francisco Lagos on the impact of Chile’s Inclusion Law of 2015; and Kfir Mordechay on school choice and gentrification in New York.
NCSPE provides nonpartisan documentation and analysis of school choice and educational privatization.

This morning I posted Gary Rubenstein’s post revealing that Success Academy agreed—after five years of litigation—to pay $1.1 million to parents whose children with disabilities were on the SA “got to go” list.

Leonie Haimson has more on the story.

SA never produced the documents demanded by parents. They never paid the attorneys’ fees.

Here is the August 2018 decision by the US District Court Judge, Fredrick Block, who refused Success’ request to dismiss the case, and instead described the horrific treatment that these five children with disabilities were subjected to starting at the age of four and five, including repeatedly being removed from class early, dismissed, suspended and denied their mandated services.

Here is the February 2020 acceptance by the families of Success’ Offer of Judgement of $1.1 million plus reasonable attorney fees; which the charter chain chose to provide before going to trial, rather than release the full documentation ordered by the Court, which would further detail the abusive treatment of these children.

To this day, Success has refused to pay the attorneys’ reasonable fees, so here is the most recent court filing by the families’ attorneys from Advocates for Justice, NY Lawyers for Public Interest, and Stroock Stroock and Lavan, detailing all the hours and work they put into the case over nearly five years, along with fees for the various experts who validated the fact that these children’s civil rights were repeatedly violated.

Peter Greene describes in this post how charter schools in Pennsylvania manage to game the system by making money from students with disabilities even while excluding many of them.

He writes:

In a new report, Education Voters of Pennsylvania looks at “how an outdated law wastes public money, encourages gaming the system, and limits school choice.” Fixing the Flaws looks at how Pennsylvania’s two separate funding systems have made students with special needs a tool for charter gaming of the system, even as some of them are shut out of the system entirely.
The two-headed system looks like this. Public schools receive special education funding based on the actual costs of services, while charter schools are funded with a one-size-fits-all system that pays the same amount for all students with special needs, no matter what those special needs might be….

Public schools receive state funding based on student tiers; charters get the same funding whether the student needs an hour of speech therapy a week or a separate classroom, teacher and aide.

This creates an obvious financial incentive for charter schools to cherry pick students who are considered special needs, but who need no costly adaptations or staffing to meet those needs, while at the same time incentivizing charters to avoid the more costly high needs students. Denial of those students does not require outright rejection of the students; charters can simply say, “You are welcome to enroll, but we do not provide any of the specialized programs that you want for your child.” Parents will simply walk away.

Examples of this technique are not hard to find in the state. Before they closed down in 2018, the Wonderland Charter School in State Collegel was caught over-identifying students with speech and language impairment, a low-cost Tier 1 need, by 1,000%….

Across the state, the report finds roughly 10% of public school enrollment is students with special needs; for charters, the percentage across the state is about half that.
The result is that taxpayers, through their local districts, are overpaying charters for the services provided. If a student with a language impairment moves to a charter, the funding doesn’t just follow her—it increases by thousands of dollars. A student who cost the taxpayers $15,000 to educate in a public school now costs taxpayers $27,000, though no more money is being actually spent on that student’s education.

The problem could easily be fixed, and Peter explains how.

Students, parents, and alumni of the high-performing Mystic Valley Regional Charter School have raised questions about racism at the school, alleging that racism permeates its culture. Similar questions have been raised at Success Academy in New York City and other “no excuses” charter schools that emphasize test scores and tough discipline over human relations.

Hayley Kaufman wrote in the Boston Globe:


The questions came from parents, from alumni, from the president of the class of 2020. How would Mystic Valley Regional Charter School, known for rigorous academics and ranked a top high school in Massachusetts, address a long and alarming list of concerns about diversity, inclusion, and the treatment of students of color?

The questions came at a June 8 meeting with the Mystic Valley trustees, where 15 speakers raised the issues, describing a culture that penalized students who spoke out about inequities, while seeming to shrug off reports of bias. They also demanded to know why a series of controversial social media posts made by a cofounder of the Malden charter school hadn’t been publicly denounced.

“It’s going to take somebody to get their hands dirty, really going in and really, really, really looking this horrible situation in its eye,” Alvin Buyinza, a 2015 graduate, told the board. “There is a conversation on race that needs to be addressed at the school level.”

Amid a nationwide outcry on racial injustice, an urgent chorus of voices is calling for change at Mystic Valley, a K-12 charter school ranked in April as the sixth best high school in the state by U.S. News and World Report. One alumni group gathered hundreds of signatures on a petition demanding a more diverse faculty and a restructuring of the school’s mission statement to “address issues of systemic discrimination.” Another group said it has compiled more than 150 examples of alleged incidents of racism and LGBT bias. On June 25, parents and students held a protest, waving signs as drivers honked their horns.

“The culture has to change at the school,” said Zane T. Crute, president of the Mystic Valley area branch of the NAACP, who sent a scathing letter to administrators endorsing the petitioners’ demands. For change to happen, he said, an independent evaluation of policies must be conducted “to keep the school honest — separate from the donors, separate from the board.”

Few would deny that Mystic Valley, which was founded in 1998 and enrolls more than 1,550 students from Malden and surrounding communities, provides strong education to a diverse student body. Sixty-one percent of seniors in 2019 earned the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship. While most schools in Massachusetts require 180 days of instruction, Mystic Valley tops out at 200.

But the school also has an unsettling track record on issues of race and inclusion. Recent data shows Mystic Valley disciplines Black and Latinx students at sharply higher rates than white students, and disabled students at a higher rate still.

In 2017, in a widely publicized move, Attorney General Maura Healey determined a school policy that banned hair extensions and other hairstyles discriminated against students of color, especially Black students, who’d been suspended and banned from activities. Two years earlier, regulators pushed back on efforts to increase enrollment because the school lacked proper services for non-English speakers. And when a student wanted to form a gay-straight alliance club in 2014, her efforts were stymied until the American Civil Liberties Union got involved.

A series of social media posts made by Neil Kinnon, a Mystic Valley cofounder and former Malden city councilor, has sparked the latest conflagration. As protests swelled after the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer, Kinnon posted a Wall Street Journal opinion piece titled “The Myth of Systemic Police Racism.”

“Please consider the real facts not the propaganda,” he wrote on his “Kinnon For Malden” Facebook page, a screenshot of which was obtained by the Globe before it was taken down. Systemic racism, he commented, is “a false narrative” and “the millions marching are indeed pawns.” Kinnon did not respond to e-mails and phone calls for this story.

The backlash to the Facebook post was swift. Students, alumni, even one of Kinnon’s neighbors blasted his statements. Meanwhile, screen shots of additional posts allegedly made by Kinnon on other Facebook pages triggered further outrage.

Long a divisive figure in Malden, Kinnon resigned from the charter school’s board of trustees in 2019 and no longer holds an official role there. But students say his influence is still felt. Petitioners asked that the school “further disaffiliate” from him by ending the Neil Kinnon Citizenship Award, presented annually to a graduating senior. And Alfie Tsang, 2020 class president, pushed trustees for clarity on Kinnon’s connection to the school, and why they hadn’t condemned the social media posts.

Chairman George Warren said at the June 8 meeting that the board was aware of Kinnon’s statements but needed time to “digest” things. “We will get back to you and the public,” he said, “if it’s deemed necessary.”

On June 16, Warren and Alexander Dan, the school’s superintendent/director, released a letter to parents. In it, they said Mystic Valley had undergone an “expansive internal investigation” in 2017 after the attorney general’s investigation. They’d “voluntarily implemented” suggestions from the review, which was conducted by a third party. Staffers received implicit bias training. Efforts to recruit more teachers of color were ongoing.

They also invoked George Floyd and condemned “the unacceptable tolerance of racism by sections of our society.” There was no mention of Kinnon.

In response to calls and e-mails from the Globe, Dan forwarded an annotated version of the letter to parents that was sent separately to the alumni behind the petition. There, Dan did refer to Kinnon: “Respectfully, we will not address the conduct of any person who is not a board member and not an employee at the school.”

Dan further noted: “Prior to your letter, Mr. Kinnon had already voluntarily determined to suspend his citizenship award at the school.”

Parents and students say the problems at Mystic Valley run much deeper than offensive social media posts. They say marginalization is baked into the foundation of the school, starting with its mission statement. It describes a “world class education characterized by a well-mannered, disciplined and structured academic climate” based in the “fundamental ideals of our American Culture.”

But how that discipline is delivered, and to whom, has left many frustrated, particularly when it comes to students of color.

“What they purport as discipline is essentially authoritarianism,” said Eric Henry, a retired Navy veteran and father of triplets going into ninth grade. Henry, who is Black, described several encounters his children have had, ranging from microaggressions to disciplinary incidents. In one, his daughter Thora was pulled out of class and reprimanded by a white teacher she did not know because she had dropped off a book in a classroom without knocking.

“She’s experiencing harassment and conflict resolution at way too young an age,” said Henry, who served on the PTO for several years. If parents complain about the way their children are treated, “They say, ‘Don’t forget, you asked to come here.‘ ”

Thora added: ”If you’re a student of color, you won’t get the benefit of the doubt.”

Indeed, data provided to the Department of Education showed that of the 289 Black students enrolled at Mystic Valley in 2018-19, 34, or 11.8 percent, received some sort of disciplinary action. Of 151 Latinx students, 17, or 11.3 percent, were disciplined. By comparison, 49 of 762 white students were disciplined, or 6.4 percent. Dan could not be reached for comment on the DOE numbers.

By far the highest percentage of disciplinary action was taken against students with disabilities. Of 221 students identified as having disabilities that year, 44, or 20 percent, were disciplined.

Parents and students also raised concerns about what they see as a pervasive insensitivity toward students with multicultural backgrounds.

Vanessa Santos described a situation in which her daughter, a rising eighth-grader, was chastised by a teacher who told her to stop “speaking Spanish.” When the girl noted that she was speaking Portuguese, she said, the teacher waved her off, saying, “It’s all the same.”

Kedisha Clerger, a 2019 graduate who now attends Howard University, described a painful experience from her senior year. One day on her way to class, she was speaking to a friend about college applications, confiding that she’d thought about writing an essay “comparing Mystic Valley to slavery.”

A teacher who’d been eavesdropping broke into the conversation. “I guess you could compare me to a plantation owner,” she recalled him saying.

Stunned, Clerger reported what had happened to administrators. And there began a head-spinning series of events. She was told the teacher was “just making a joke.” She was told she bore responsibility, that if she hadn’t made the slavery comment, the teacher wouldn’t have responded that way. Dan could not be reached for comment on the incident.

When all was said and done, Clerger said, she was accused of being “rude and disrespectful” and was suspended for a day.

“You report stuff at the school and they try to silence you,” she said. I just felt hopeless.”

Clerger recently wrote about the experience, posting it to the Mystic Valley Parents Facebook page. She said God has been a source of strength as she looks back on her time at the school. And she urged the community to take action.

“Black kids at MV go through so much that is unknown to people,” she wrote. “Fight for change.”

Hayley Kaufman can be reached at hayley.kaufman@globe.com.

The Biden and Sanders campaigns created a “Unity Task Force” to make recommendations on important issues.

Here is their report with recommendations. It is 110 pages.

There is much to like in the report, proposing an agenda to reverse four years of savage attacks by Trump on the environment, on the rule of law, on government itself.

The education portion aPears on pp. 22-27.

It contains welcome pledges of increased funding, more equitable funding, universal early childhood education, a commitment to racial integration of schools, a commitment to making higher education affordable (including tuition-free community colleges), debt relief for college graduates, and other worthy goals and policies.

On the two issues where Democrats found themselves committed to Republican strategies, the panel has a mixed record.

It took a clear stand against the high-stakes standardized testing that is a legacy of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law of 2001-2002:

The evidence from nearly two decades of education reforms that hinge on standardized test scores shows clearly that high-stakes annual testing has not led to enough improvement in outcomes for students or for schools, and can lead to discrimination against students, particularly students with disabilities, students of color, low-income students, and English language learners. Democrats will work to end the use of such high-stakes tests and encourage states to develop evidence-based approaches to student assessment that rely on multiple and holistic measures that better represent student achievement.

That’s a step forward, especially since so many high-profile DemocratIc Senators voted to retain high-stakes testing when NCLB turned into the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015. So, we can celebrate the fact that the Unity Task Force is prepared to discard the Bush policy based on the non-existent “Texas Miracle.”

The other issue that has been a huge burden for public schools is the Republican claim that competition improves public schools. This faulty idea has spurred the development of privately managed charter schools and vouchers. Charters have a flimsy record. Those that get high test scores are known for their low enrollments of students with disabilities and English language learners, as well as their harsh discipline policies (no excuses). Many Republicans love charters because they are a stepping stone to vouchers. They wean people away from public schools and encourage parents to think of themselves as consumers, not citizens. Thanks to private management, charters have been plagued by multiple scandals involving waste, fraud abuse, and bloated administrative overhead. The teacher turnover rate at charters is very large in some high-performing charters, as much as 50% every year. The virtual charter industry is a disaster that has been associated with multimillion dollar embezzlement.

The Network for Public Education published two reports documenting the failure of the federal Charter Schools Program, which hands out $440 million every year to open new charters and expand existing ones. I have referred to the CSP as Betsy DeVos’s personal slush fund because she has given huge grants to corporate charter chains like KIPP and IDEA. THE NPE reports (Asleep at the Wheel and Still Asleep at the Wheel) demonstrate that nearly 40% of the charters funded by the CSP either never opened or closed soon after opening. During the campaign, Senator Sanders called for elimination of the federal a Charter Schools Program.

Five facts stand out about charter schools:

1. On average, they don’t get better results than public schools.
2. They drain resources and the students they choose from public schools that take everyone, including the kids the charters don’t want.
3. About 90% of charters are non-union, by design.
4. Charters are amply funded by billionaires like the Walton family, Betsy DeVos, Charles Koch, Reed Hastings, and Michael Bloomberg.
5. If charters helped solve the problems of American education, then Detroit would be one of the outstanding districts in the nation, instead it is one of the nation’s lowest performing districts.

Why should the federal government spend $440 million every year on new charters and on expanding corporate charter chains?

Given that background, you can understand why I think the Unity Task Force statement on charters is watery pablum.

Here it is in its entirety:

Charter schools were originally intended to be publicly funded schools with increased flexibility in program design and operations. Democrats believe that education is a public good and should not be saddled with a private profit motive, which is why we will ban for-profit private charter businesses from receiving federal funding. And we recognize the need for more stringent guardrails to ensure charter schools are good stewards of federal education funds. We support measures to increase accountability for charter schools, including by requiring all charter schools to meet the same standards of transparency as traditional public schools, including with regard to civil rights protections, racial equity, admissions practices, disciplinary procedures, and school finances. We will call for conditioning federal funding for new, expanded charter schools or for charter school renewals on a district’s review of whether the charter will systematically underserve the neediest students. And Democrats oppose private school vouchers and other policies that divert taxpayer-funded resources away from the public school system.

Nothing is said here that would displease the hedge fund managers and billionaires who support charters. Even Betsy DeVos must be smiling to see the Biden-Sanders task force endorse school choice, which was birthed by southern governors resisting the Brown decision. It’s very sad to see a task force of Democratic leaders giving their blessing to the southern strategy. (Read Steve Suitts’ new book on that sordid history: “Overturning Brown: The Segregationist Legacy of the Modern School Choice Legacy.”)

Taking a stand against “for-profit charters” is piffle. Arizona is the only state that allows for-profit charters. Nothing is said in this statement about banning for-profit management corporations, which manage large numbers of “nonprofit” charters all over the country.

And notice that the task force says nothing about terminating the federal Charter Schools Program, as Sanders recommended, guaranteeing that the government will continue to spend $440 million (or more) to open more non-union charters to compete with public schools. Excluding “for-profit charters” from the federal CSP is good news for KIPP, IDEA, and other “nonprofit” corporate charter chains that are bankrupting local public schools. This recommendation was made with full knowledge of the long-run failure of this program.

Of course, I will vote for Joe Biden, despite this weak-kneed capitulation to the Republican-dominated charter lobbyists. But I won’t hide my disappointment.

The failure of the task force to challenge the charter industry and stand up for public schools as the foundation stone of our democracy is troubling and is an embarrassment to the Biden campaign.

A parent of two children at the Success Academy charter chain in New York City reaches out to Mercedes Schneider in Louisiana to spill the beans about the chain’s efforts to kick her children out.

The teachers and administrators made it clear that her children should find another school, but she stubbornly hung on. They weren’t problem children, but the older child was “average,” and the younger one needed extra attention.

That was enough to cause the chain to try to shed them, but their mother ignored all the efforts to push them out.

When the pandemic struck and school went virtual, SA was no more nimble than the public schools. The mother realized that SA is all about grading students, not teaching them.

In this post, Mercedes Schneider interviews Annie Tan, who joined Teach for America in 2011, and, with inadequate training, was assigned be a teacher of special education in Chicago. Her experience was, she says, a disaster.

One of Tan’s responses:

Tan: I will never forget the first day when we had our celebration, and the CEO of Chicago Public Schools came and made a speech to us. It felt very strange for him to be there for some reason. Yes, we were going to be 250 new teachers in Chicago, so logically it may have made sense to introduce us and do a welcome, but I also couldn’t imagine him doing that at a regular university that had education majors graduating. I couldn’t imagine him going to one of those graduations and making a speech.

There were a few moments that I still remember that were odd, as well. I remember the first day of professional development through Teach for America, when we got no talk around how segregated Chicago was, just people alluding to it, like Teach for America was not even going to approach that schools were unequal because of race and income, especially in Chicago, which really stands out since I worked in Chicago Public Schools for five years and taught there for four.

And then, the speech from some Teach for America staff members, that we might be the first teachers in some of these kids’ lives that had high expectations for them. I first thought to myself, “How can I have high expectations for my students when I don’t even know them yet? All I’ve done was graduate from a fancy college, so how am I better than someone else?” That really rubbed me the wrong way.

Schneider called this attitude “the savior complex.”

Who thought it was good to place an unprepared young teacher in a classroom of children with special needs?

It is a revealing interview.

The advocacy group called Public Funds a Public Schools gathered a useful archive of research studies of vouchers.

The studies were conducted by nonpartisan academic and federal researchers.

The findings are broadly congruent.

Voucher schools are academically inferior to public schools.

Voucher schools divert funding from public schools, which enroll most children.

Voucher programs lack accountability.

The absence of oversight promotes fraud and corruption.

Voucher programs do not help students with disabilities.

Voucher schools are allowed to discriminate against certain groups of students and families.

Voucher programs exacerbate segregation.

Voucher programs don’t work, don’t improve education, and have multiple negative effects.