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?

The Limits of Free Speech For Teachers

As a teacher-blogger myself, I’m quite aware that while my First Amendment freedoms are absolute, my “right” to a teaching job isn’t.  For this reason I self-censor to a small degree–for example, I don’t publish posts highly critical of my district or its officers, and when I do, I try to stick to facts and not suppositions.  “Unprofessional conduct” is a gray area, indeed.

I would have to agree with the University of Hawaii, the trial court, and the 9th Circuit (not something I do often!), and conclude that the potential risk to students outweighed this potential teacher’s job training:

A federal appeals court last week ruled that the University of Hawaii was within its rights to deny permission to a candidate for teacher certification to participate in a required student teaching program based on his statements on adult-child sex and on schoolchildren with disabilities.

Mark Oyama — who had a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree at the time — met the academic requirements in the teacher certification program. But the university found that his statements against bans on adult-child sex and that most special education students were “fakers” made him unsuitable to become a teacher. Oyama sued in federal court, charging that the university violated his First Amendment rights. A lower court rejected his suit, and the appeals court upheld that decision.

In doing so, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said its decision was based primarily on case law about the role colleges and universities play in certifying teachers, and the role of higher education in professional certification. The court stressed that it did not want to act in a way that would limit academic freedom or the right of students to express controversial views. In this case, the appeals court found, the university’s decision was based on national professional standards and specific job requirements for teachers, and thus was constitutional.

Clearly such a ruling, and even the limits it recognizes, could be abused–recall the University of Missouri “litmus test” for social workers, for example.  I understand the ruling in the Hawaii case, but guarding against litmus tests for the “wrong” views will require eternal vigilance.

Do special-ed kids need teacher-cams?

Credit: LA Johnson/NPR

Texas will require schools to videotape classrooms with special-ed students, if a parent or teacher requests it.

The law applies to any self-contained classroom in which at least half the students receive special-ed services for at least half the day, reports NPR.

Last year, an NBC-5 investigation exposed “calm rooms” — padded closets — at some North Texas schools.

Some of these rooms had cameras. In one cringe-worthy video recording, a teacher forced an 8-year-old boy with autism inside a room, forced him to the floor and held the door shut despite his protests.

Parents protested. State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Texas, sponsored legislation to “give a voice to someone who could not speak up when they were abused at school.” He says videotaping also will protect teachers from false accusations.

It’s not clear how many cameras will be required or how much it will cost to record and store footage.

If one parent requests camera, other students’ parents can’t block the videotaping.

District not liable for drug sting arrests

Riverside County (California) schools aren’t responsible for a drug sting that targeted special ed students, a Superior Court judge has ruled. Judge Raquel A. Marquez dismissed a 2013 suit brought by Jesse Snodgrass, reports Jane Meredith Adams in EdSource.

After his expulsion was reversed, Jesse Snodgrass was graduated from Chaparral High.

After his expulsion was reversed, Jesse Snodgrass completed high school.

Snodgrass was a 17-year-old with autism and bipolar disorder when he was befriended and manipulated by an undercover sheriff’s deputy, the suit alleged. “Dan” sent 60 text messages asking him to buy marijuana.

He was arrested on felony drug charges and expelled. Later, citing extenuating circumstances, a judge gave Snodgrass six months of probation. An administrative law judge overturned the expulsion, saying that Snodgrass “has overwhelmingly demonstrated that his actions were a manifestation of his disability.”

A 2014 Rolling Stone story, The Entrapment of Jesse Snodgrass, and a Vice Media video, The War on Kids, “launched a barrage of negative publicity” that persuaded local school districts to stop authorizing drug stings, writes Adams.

Putting the ‘special’ in special ed

Special education teacher Chris Ulmer spends 10 minutes every morning by complimenting each of his eight students at Mainspring Academy in Jacksonville, Florida. Does he find something new to say every day?

You can see more on Ulmer’s Special Books by Special Kids Facebook page.

Disabled son was pushed out of district school

Beth Hawkins’ autistic son was pushed out of his district school in Minneapolis — and embraced by a charter, she writes on Real Clear Education.

According to Hillary Clinton, “Most charter schools . . . don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them.” District schools “do, thankfully, take everybody,” the candidate said at a forum.

Beth and Corey Hawkins

Beth and Corey Hawkins

Any school — district or charter — can “push out” a problem student, writes Hawkins, an education writer.

When a student’s needs are too hard to meet, a school may “discipline the student often and loudly, until the parent gets the message,” or send the student to an alternative school. Some segregate problem students in special ed programs or “flat-out tell students, ‘This might not be the school for you’.”

The district school thought her son’s problems stemmed from his “bad attitude.” She thought his “good” school was bad for him.

Her 13-year-old son now attends Venture Academy, a blended-learning charter. “Students create their own learning plans, choosing what they find interesting from a menu of online and bricks-and-mortar options,” writes Hawkins.

A few days into the school year, the charter’s social worker called to say her son “had done something tough with aplomb.” His teachers “wanted my input on how to reinforce the victory going forward.”

“It was the first time the call was about playing to his strengths,” Hawkins writes. “It was the first time I was called on as the expert on my own child.”

Charters close special-ed gap

Charters are closing the special-education gap with district schools and are more likely to mainstream special-ed students, according to an analysis by the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools.

District schools classify 12.55 percent of students as needing special education, compared to 10.42 percent in charter schools. That gap is shrinking.

Charter students with disabilities are far more likely to spend their school day in maisntream classrooms.

Charters may not serve as many severely disabled students who require a separate class, said Lauren Morando Rhim, executive director of NCSECS. Inclusion also is more practical for small schools.

“If you’re in a huge district, you might pool resources and put all the kids with disability A in this school, but if you’re a single charter school operating as its own district, you can’t do that,” said Morando Rhim. “So you’re going to figure out how to integrate them in their program versus creating a distinct program.”

Charter and district schools suspend and expel students with disabilities at about the same rate, according to the report. In both sectors, students with disabilities are much more likely to be suspended or expelled than other students.

The report also identified 115 charters that focus on serving disabled students.

‘Pay for success’ preschool gains are iffy


Students in a preschool program in Utah meant to help kindergartners avoid special education. Credit: Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

A  “pay for success” preschool program in Utah helped 99 percent of high-risk children avoid special education in kindergarten, Salt Lake County officials announced last month. Investors who bought “social-impact bonds” to fund the program received a $260,000 payout, representing a share of the district’s savings on special education. They’ll get more in coming years, potentially making a profit.

Results are too good to be true, early-education experts tell the New York Times.

Even well-funded preschool programs — and the Utah program was not well funded — have been found to reduce the number of students needing special education by, at most, 50 percent. Most programs yield a reduction of closer to 10 or 20 percent.

It’s either “a miracle, or these kids weren’t in line for special education in the first place,” said Clive Belfield, an economics professor who studies early childhood education.

It seems clear that “miracle” is not the right answer.

The school district used a picture and vocabulary test called the PPVT to screen the incoming preschoolers. Those who scored below 70 — 30 to 40 percent of children over three years — were labeled likely to need special education.

“To just assume that all these children would have gone to special education is kind of ridiculous,” said Ellen S. Peisner-Feinberg, a senior scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute.

The test rarely is used to screen for disabilities, especially when used alone. Furthermore, 30 to 50 percent of the preschoolers may have scored poorly because they were not fluent in English.

Kentucky, Georgia top NAEP Dishonor Roll 

Kentucky, Georgia and Maryland top Dropout Nation’s NAEP Dishonor Roll 2015 for excluding high percentages of special education and English Learner students from testing.

The U.S. Department of Education requires districts and states to test 95 percent of students and 85 percent of special ed and EL students. Some states are out of compliance.

naep_reading_2015_special_ed_eighthgrade_exclusion

Dropout Nation also looks at cities that exclude high percentages of special ed and EL students.

Washington D.C. Public Schools, which won praise for rising NAEP scores, “excluded as many as 44 percent of ELL fourth- and eighth-graders” from the reading exam, reports RiShawn Biddle.

Dallas “excluded 44 percent of fourth-grade kids in special ed, leading in that category, and ranked second behind the notorious Baltimore City school system (36 percent), by excluding 29 percent of eighth-graders who were special ed and had other disabilities,” reports Dropout Nation.