Big districts hire more cops than counselors

School security officers outnumber counselors in some of the nation’s largest school districts, including New York City, Chicago, Miami-Dade County and Houston, reports Matt Barnum for The 74.

Some cities, such as New York City, hire high numbers of both security staff and counselors, the analysis found.

Others, such as  Houston and Los Angeles, don’t have many guards or counselors. Both school districts have their own police force.

Most school security officers have little training in dealing with troubled and special-needs students, reports The 74.

Hyperactive — or just young?

Many children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are just immature, suggests a study in Taiwan. Children who are young for their grade are much more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, reports The Telegraph.

Only 2.8 percent of boys born in September, the oldest in the class in Taiwan schools, are diagnosed with ADHD. The rate is 4.5 percent for boys born in August, who are the youngest in the class.

For girls, the rate of ADHD diagnoses rose from 0.7 to 1.2 per cent, depending on birth month.

Teachers may be comparing the behavior of younger children to their older, more mature classmates, researchers concluded.

How many ADHD kids just need more time to learn how to focus their attention — and instead get medication?

‘College for all’ includes learning disabled


Amanda Carbonneau (in pink top) laughs with friends at University of Central Florida. Photo: Red Huber, Orlando Sentinel

Amanda Carbonneau, 21, who reads at the fourth-grade level, is enjoying her first year at the University of Central Florida. A new program for students with learning disabilities has made it possible for her to live in a dorm, learning independent-living skills, and participate in campus activities, reports Gabrielle Russon in the Orlando Sentinel.

“We’re paying for a college experience,” said her mother, Janet Carbonneau.

Amanda Carbonneau is living away from home for the first time. Photo: Orlando Sentinel

Disabled students who aren’t seeking a degree can live in University of Central Florida dorms.  Photo: Orlando Sentinel

Amanda has taken an early childhood education course and study skills.

Students in the program take low-level classes (often P.E.) and have access to tutors, but are not working toward a degree. UCF may award a special diploma or certificate.

A new state-funded center in the College of Education and Human Performance “will grant $3.5 million annually in scholarships to students with disabilities.”

I know this is supposed to be a feel-good story, but . . . Shouldn’t the “college experience” including higher education? Florida will spend $3.5 million so young people who lack the ability to do college-level work can live in a dorm and hang out on a university campus.

Manifest injustice

Special-ed students can disrupt classrooms without consequences, if their behavior is a “manifestation” of their disability, writes Darren on Right on the Left Coast. A training session — lots of slides — left him “extremely frustrated when I’m told that essentially, special education students are the only students that matter, and screw everyone else.”

These days, parents “will fight any effort to require their angel to conform to even the most nominal standards of conduct,” he writes. Schools often give in to avoid an expensive fight.

It’s even harder to discipline special-ed students.

If a special education student has over 10 days of suspension in a school year (which should be an indicator of something right there), a meeting with a large number of people must be held for each additional suspension to determine if the misbehavior is a “manifestation” of the student’s disability.  If it’s a manifestation, they cannot be suspended.

He wonders: “What disability manifests itself via vandalism?” Is being an “a–hole” a disability?

Untimed tests: ‘not such a crazy idea’

Untimed tests — aren’t such a crazy idea, opines Robert Pondiscio in the New York Daily News. In response to the opt-out movement — 20 percent of students skipped New York’s state exams — this spring’s test takers will be allowed as much time as they want.

Dropping time limits won’t invalidate the results, writes Pondiscio. Research shows extra time helps students with learning disabilities, but has no significant effect for students without disabilities.

Most state math and reading tests are “power” tests rather than “speed” tests, according to University of Pennsylvania psychometrician Andrew Porter. Power tests “are designed so that nearly all students will be able to complete all items within the allotted time.”

“Education officials seem to think that allowing unlimited time will give parents one less reason to complain about test pressure,” writes Pondiscio. He doubts it will work. “The real source of test pressure is not the clock, it’s adults pressuring kids to perform.”

Any leveling or reduction in the number of parents refusing to let kids sit for state tests this year will likely be a function of New York’s moratorium on linking test scores to teacher evaluations. School administrators and teachers are less likely to transfer their anxieties to students, wittingly or unwittingly.

The moratorium ends in 2020.

I’ve worked under deadline for most of my life. I do the best I can in the time and space I’ve got. Then I stop. I find unlimited time very stressful.

The schools they chose

Included in the school choice stories on Education Post is Dashaun Robinson’s story how he failed in neighborhood schools, until he “found a small charter school in Providence, Rhode Island, and became a 10th grader, again, at the age of 18.” He’s now a sophomore at Rhode Island College.

Blackstone Valley Prep, a charter school in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, created a very small, supportive class to serve their son and other disabled students, write Kevin Sims and Krystal Vasquez. Despite his epilepsy, anxiety and adjustment disorder, he “loves learning” and performs at grade level.

Kim Wilborn

Kim Wilborn plans to earn a college degree.

Kim Wilborn, an eighth-grader, credits Perspectives Charter School in Chicago for  turning her into a straight-A student who’s forgiven her drug-addicted mother and taken her first steps on “a path to a brighter future.”

In elementary school, she “ran with a bad crowd,” she writes. There was  no homework. When she started Perspectives in sixth grade, she “didn’t know multiplication or division,” only how to punch numbers in a calculator. She got extra help to catch up in math.

In an ethics class called A Disciplined Life, she learning about taking responsibility — and forgiveness.

Even though he was in prison for 27 years, Nelson Mandela forgave the people who put him in there. He had dinner with one of his prison guards. He had lunch with the man who wanted him to get the death penalty. He was not bitter.

I didn’t want to be, either.

She’s learned how to push herself to overcome challenges.  Almost 200 pounds in sixth grade, she was encouraged to join the track team. “You have to keep going,” the coach told her. “When your legs get tired, you have to start running with your heart.”

I’ve lost a lot of weight since then. I have the willpower to keep going no matter how hard it gets.

. . . I get lots of homework now but it’s like when I started track: the more I’m used to it, the more I can do.

Gabby Dixon, a Perspectives high school student, likes the “small size and personal relationships.”

Her AP Literature is reading Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

Sometimes I really have to sit down with my teacher to understand it — there’s so much going on in the text. What’s great is he told us it’s OK not to understand something right away. It’s OK to wrestle with a text. It’s OK to be vulnerable and open. That’s the best way you get to learn.

She’s also a big fan of A Disciplined Life.

Charters retain more hard-to-teach kids

While critics claim charters “push out” hard-to-teach students, urban charter schools are better at retaining students with disabilities and English Language Learners than district-run schools, concludes Marcus Winters.

Four years after entry into kindergarten, 65 percent of students with disabilities remained at their Denver charter school,  while district schools retained only 37 percent of special-ed students, writes Winters.

Victor Uriarte and his daughter Daniela, 11, celebrate the winning of the lottery of West Denver Prep. Photo: Hyoung Chang, Denver Post

Victor Uriarte and his daughter Daniela, 11, celebrate winning a seat at West Denver Prep, a high-performing charter network,  in a lottery. Photo: Hyoung Chang, Denver Post

Students learning English are more likely to remain at a charter than a district school. In New York City, 82 percent of ELLs who enrolled in charters for kindergarten remained in their schools four years later, compared with 70 percent in traditional public schools.

ELLs and students with disabilities made “substantial” learning gains in Boston charter schools compared to district schools, concludes a new MIT study.

Charters enroll fewer students with disabilities or an ELL designation. That’s because fewer apply, writes Winters. He advocates a common-enrollment system to make it easier for parents to apply.

Common enrollment nearly eliminated the gap in ELLS entering charters in Denver, his analysis found.

Is it OK to push out disruptive kids?

“I have no problem at all with charters functioning as a poor man’s private school,” Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio tells Reason. “Are we saying that if you’re a poor black or brown kid, it’s a problem that you should have a disruption-free, studious, high-quality school? Why is that unfair?”

A group of parents have filed a a civil rights complaint accusing high-scoring Success Academy charters of pushing out students with disabilities.

One Success Academy principal issued a “Got-to-Go” list of unwanted students, reported the New York Times in October. Founder Eva Moskowitz called it a mistake.

In response to the complaint, she said Success schools only suspend students for violent behavior. The schools’ disabled students perform better in reading and math than non-disabled students in other city schools, she points out.

Success Academy students who behave well enough to stay are doing much, much better than similar students in district schools. Should Success be forced to adopt laxer discipline policies and keep disruptive students? Should district schools be allowed to adopt tougher discipline policies and get rid of disruptive students?

Milwaukee’s voucher program also was accused of discriminating against disabled students. After four years, the federal investigation has been closed “with no apparent findings of major wrongdoing,” reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

To cure ADHD, kids play video games

Soaring through a jungle on a hover platform, the player must avoid roadblocks while collecting the red birds and ignoring those distracting blue birds. Instead of medication for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), some day doctors may prescribe specially designed video games, writes Lizzie Thompson on The 74.

Akili Interactive Labs’ Project:  Evo tries to help children learn to focus their attention and filter out distractions.

While guiding the Evo Explorer through an obstacle course, the player must “tap on the screen when a red bird appears, and make the decision not to tap if a bird of any other color appears.”

Once the child masters red birds, it’s on to a new challenge.

. . . no two games are going to be exactly alike. Rather, the game calibrates and changes the complexity, challenges, and difficulty at a pace determined by the data collected as child plays it in real time, adapting second-by- second ever so slightly to the player’s ability.

Test subjects play the game on an iPad five days a week, for 30 minutes a day, for a month. Then Akili evaluates any changes in their cognitive functions.

The goal is to get FDA approval and persuade physicians to prescribe the game to kids with ADHD.

The Hardest Students To Teach

What happens to those California children who have emotional and/or disciplinary problems that are too great for their parents or their schools to handle?  Many of them get shipped to facilities out of state:

California offered another option – a group home with trained staff and expert support. Soon enough, Deshaun was sent to a home in Davis. It was designated a Level 14, for the most challenging children. It had a campus and classrooms and dormitories. Psychiatrists and therapists would be on hand. The $10,000 a month in costs would be borne by the family’s home county…

Under California law, public school districts must provide an education to all students who live in them. If a student has a mental health need that his home district can’t meet, then the district must pay for that student’s education elsewhere. That is how Deshaun was sent to Utah.

Deshaun and nearly 600 other California children did not end up in Utah by accident.

Today, there are an estimated 100 or more homes in Utah meant to care for and safeguard some of the country’s most troubled children – more than any other state, experts say. California has contracts with 20 of them, and it sends them a range of children who have been through California’s juvenile justice, foster care or special education systems…

California’s detention facilities grew so bad they have been all but eradicated. And its group homes proved such failures that the latest reform plan calls for drastically limiting them, as well.

The plan pushes responsibility for troubled children back to individual counties, giving them some money to help fund alternatives, though it is unclear if that will be enough.

Some counties, challenged to deliver individualized services to children at home, have come to see the financial appeal of sending away children caught up in the juvenile justice system or grappling with profound mental health issues.

“We have had an influx of kids that have mental health issues like schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder, or are just highly aggressive. And unfortunately, we just don’t have a lot of facilities here that can handle what we have been seeing,” said Amy Jacobs, deputy probation officer for Stanislaus County in California’s central valley, which sent 16 children to out-of-state group homes this past year.

“Lately, when we look to out of state programs, it’s usually because they offer more extensive mental health services,” she said.

Representatives of California public school districts, which are responsible for the overwhelming majority of the out-of-state placements, also say it’s an option of last resort. But a last resort that’s being used plenty.

It’s a lengthy article but an excellent read.  Intentionally or not, though, it gives the impression that we don’t really know how to help kids with such severe problems; at most we spend a lot of money and send them somewhere out of sight.

Deshaun’s parents are an accomplished, well-to-do couple with an ability to advocate for their son.  How many California children are there like Deshaun who don’t have such parents and just attend their neighborhood school?  How overwhelmed is their school?  How overwhelmed are the children and their parents?