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.

No evidence of ‘push-out’ at NYC charters

Attrition is lower at elementary charter schools in New York City than at neighboring schools, concludes a new analysis by the city’s Independent Budget Office.

About 64 percent of students attending charter schools in kindergarten in school year 2008-2009 remained in the same school four years later, compared with 56 percent of students attending nearby traditional public schools.

In addition, special-needs students are more likely to remain at a charter than a traditional school, the IBO reported. That’s a change from last year’s report, which looked only at students in full-time special ed classes, notes the New York Times. Most special-needs students are mainstreamed.

High-needs students are segregated in low-performing district schools in the city, charges Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter group.  Ninety-three district schools in New York City “serve less than 1% of either English Language Learner or Special Needs students.”

Is the Core too much for disabled students?

Can special education students keep up with the Common Core? On the Hechinger Report, Amanda M. Fairbanks looks at a special-ed class for third- and fourth-graders at a Long Island school. Nicole Papa plays an audio recording of a nonfiction article about bullying and peer pressure. Then, she reads it the first part again and asks students to think the main idea.

Her students have “diagnoses ranging from autism spectrum disorders to learning disabilities to mood disorders.” They don’t read well enough to get through the article themselves.

“A couple of years ago, I would never have tried such a difficult passage with these kids,” said Papa, reflecting on her lesson. “My students are stepping it up and showing some unexpected successes. I see the light bulbs go on and I see a lot of growth in their comprehension, in their vocabulary and in their confidence. They know they’re doing exactly what their peers are doing right across the hallway.”

They’re doing it at a much slower pace. While the mainstream class finished the first of four English segments in October, Papa’s class was still working on it in May.

Common Core’s higher expectations is tackling a “huge underachievement problem,” said Lindsay Jones, the director of public policy and advocacy for the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

Nevertheless, Celia Oyler, a professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, is troubled by the uniformity she observes when visiting special education classrooms.

“Every child is being given the same materials at the same time,” said Oyler, who runs the Teachers College Inclusive Classrooms Project and directs the inclusive teacher education programs at the college. “The very essence of meeting the needs of children with disabilities is that learners need to be doing things at different times.”

Most special ed students weren’t meeting the old standards, notes Anya Kamenetz on NPR.

Jackson Ellis, who’s starting fourth grade in Louisiana, is on the autism spectrum.  “There’s always been a gap — academically, socially — between what he could do and other kids could do,” says his mother, Rebecca Ellis. “When the standards changed, the gap grew into this canyon overnight.”

Do bad apples spoil the learning?

 African Americans and students with disabilities are suspended at “hugely disproportionate rates,” according to a report by a group called the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative. 

Higher rates of misbehavior don’t explain higher suspension rates, said Russell J. Skiba, a professor at Indiana University and director of the collaborative. He pointed to other factors such as classroom management, diversity of teaching staff, administrative processes, characteristics of student enrollment and school climate.

Suspending disruptive students doesn’t help their classmates, the report argues.

One oft-repeated justification for frequent suspensions is that schools must be able to remove the “bad” students so that “good” students can learn. . . .  when schools serving similar populations were compared across the state of Indiana, and poverty was controlled for, those schools with relatively low suspension rates had higher, not lower test scores

Troubled kids  hurt the whole class responds Education Next, citing two recent studies.

Domino Effect found children from “troubled families, as measured by family domestic violence,” are much more likely misbehave and be suspended.

We find also that an increase in the number of children from troubled families reduces peer student math and reading test scores and increases peer disciplinary infractions and suspensions… in many cases, a single disruptive student can indeed influence the academic progress made by an entire classroom of students.

Philadelphia study by Penn researchers found that “in schools with a high concentration of children with ‘risk factors,’ the academic performance of all children – not just those with disadvantages – was negatively affected.”

The collaborative would respond that suspension isn’t the only way to prevent troubled kids from disrupting their classes.  Researchers recommend “some restorative justice programs and prevention programs that call for more student-teacher engagement.”

Fordham’s Mike Petrilli is “very nervous” about making it harder to discipline students.  “This push to make it harder to suspend students is going to have a chilling effect on teaching and learning.”

Disabled students struggle in college

Students With Disabilities Aim For A College Degree, But Often Get Stuck, reports Joy Resmovits in the Huffington Post. 

If the U.S. is to lead the world in college graduates by 2020 — President Obama’s — more students with disabilities must go to college and earn degrees, said Sen. Tom Harkin at a committee hearing on the higher education act. “We need to understand the barriers students with disabilities face, and the services and supports that facilitate their success.”

Eighty percent of high school students with disabilities say they want to go to college, but only 60 percent enroll and even fewer complete a credential, said Harkin, who co-authored the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Students have trouble making the transition to college, where they need to become their own advocates, said Melissa Emrey-Arras, director of education, workforce and income security at the Government Accountability Office.

Many don’t ask for help, reports Matt Krupnick. They want to go it alone.

Just a quarter of students who received help for their disabilities in high school acknowledge in college that they need the same assistance, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

And while 94 percent of high school students with learning disabilities get some kind of help, just 17 percent of learning-disabled college students do.

Just 34 percent of learning-disabled students complete a four-year degree within eight years of finishing high school, according to the National Center for Special Education Research. By contrast, 56 percent of all students nationally graduate within six years, reports the National Student Clearinghouse.

In other words, people who have trouble learning have trouble learning in college. But we need to get more of them to go to college.

ACLU questions zero tolerance

Policies designed to keep guns out of schools are pushing Pennsylvania students out of school, charges Beyond Zero Tolerance, a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

Black, Latino and disabled students are the most likely to be suspended, according to the report.

The Gun-Free Schools Act of 1995 required states that receive federal funding to mandate expulsion of any students caught with a weapon on campus.

Districts expanded the definition of “weapons” beyond firearms and removed students from the classroom for more minor, discretionary offenses, such as school uniform violations and talking back to adults, the report said.

“I understand the mentality that you’ve got to get the bad kids out of school so the good kids can learn, but when you actually look at who’s doing what in schools, it really doesn’t break down that cleanly or that simply,” report author Harold Jordan told Education Week.

Pennsylvania schools averaged 10.1 suspensions for every 100 students during the 2011-2012 school year. That included 35.9 suspensions for every 100 black students, 17.5 suspensions for every 100 Latino students, and 4.7 suspensions for every 100 white students, according to the report.

Education Week looks at shifting discipline policies in a January 2013 report.

Evaluating special ed teachers

Paul Hogan teaches severely handicapped children in New York City, yet he’s evaluated with a framework designed for teachers of mainstream students. This is “tantamount to punishing and penalizing teachers who go into this demanding, difficult and highly *specialized* type of teaching,” he writes. The union hasn’t helped.

A classroom teacher can earn a “highly effective” rating only if students are observed by the evaluator to formulate high-level questions and take  “responsibility for the success of the discussion.”

Many students in District 75, which serves severely handicapped children, can’t speak.

In some cases  these non-verbal kids may be trained to push buttons on  electronic devices to communicate basic needs. “Bathroom,” for example, represented on the device by an icon or pictograph, is a basic need; as is “Hungry”. There are various picture/symbol communication  systems (TEACCH, PECS, etc.) that are used with some success with some students.  This is the kind of thing we do in special ed.. . . And let me tell you: if you are talking about a non-verbal child, classified by the DOE as “untestable,” who is incontinent and has struggled from birth with tripelgic or quadriplegic spastic cerebral palsy, you can take the Danielson Framework and burn it. It has no relevance to the  proper education of the child I just described.

Some students have IQs too low to measure. They don’t “initiate or adapt activities and projects to enhance their understanding.” They don’t exhibit “grade-level understanding.”

Exasperated Educator teaches and tests students with less-severe disabilities.


Moral cowardice and the educational policy we deserve

We call it by many names: drawing lines, making judgment calls, exercising discretion, setting limits. As human beings, we’ve got an inborn tendency to want routines — rules that we can follow to minimize the amount of time we spend making decisions. If we had to actually decide, consciously, whether to stop at each and every red light, our lives would be unbearable.

But we also are a pretty smart species, which means that we know that our general rules don’t always apply. So we make judgment calls, we make exceptions. We use “common sense”, which Descartes claimed was the best-distributed thing in the world. If we’re being chased by a car full of murderers, we don’t stop at the red lights.

The social institutions that we build also follow rules. We “set policy”. But whereas as a species we have a pretty good handle on how to bend the rules on an individual basis, as a society we really don’t have a handle on striking the balance between giving discretion in the execution of policy on the one hand, and avoiding the sort of corruption that can arise from unfettered discretion on the other.

My favourite example of this is “zero tolerance” policies, about which I’ve written extensively in the past. But the mindless application of policy can take other forms, just as intellectually and morally offensive, and even a bit macabre:

Blind, severely disabled boy forced to take standardized test.

Michael is nine years old. Born prematurely, he weighed four pounds. He has a brain stem but, according to doctors, most of his brain is missing.

No problem, says the state. An alternative version will be sent—pictures that Michael can describe.

Unfortunately, Michael is blind.

No problem, says the State. There’s a Braille version.

Michael doesn’t know Braille, and is unlikely to ever be able to learn it.

The first thing I want to do is point out about this situation is that “the State” never said a damn thing. Some individual person, acting on behalf of the people of the State of Florida, made these decisions.

Now, that person probably doesn’t think that he or she has done anything wrong: after all, policy is policy, and the people of the State of spoken in passing the laws that they’ve passed, and in appointing the people they did to write the regulations that were written. Who is this sole individual to take it upon him or herself to contradict the “wisdom” of publicly-announced policy?

This is, of course, the dilemma. As a representative of the people, are you entitled to make your own decisions about such things? And if you do, don’t you risk being wrong? Couldn’t some judge somewhere decide that you weren’t applying the law equally? Better to just follow policy — at least that way you won’t have made any sort of mistake for which you can be held accountable.

Through intensive physical, occupational, and speech therapy, along with meticulous efforts of his Hospital/Homebound teachers for the past seven years, Ethan has achieved very limited and rudimentary communication skills. He has a very slight thumb lift with his left hand to indicate ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

Ethan has been required to take the Florida Alternate Assessment for the past two years, and in addition to the questions being entirely inappropriate for his level of cognition (he cannot comprehend questions about math, staplers, clocks, shoes, or even food) there is no way to accurately assess his understanding of the material being presented… Additionally, the testing procedure is extremely physically taxing for him, requiring him to sit in his wheelchair for long periods of time and focus on black and white pictures which are difficult for him to perceive at best… After the testing sessions, he is physically exhausted and often develops pressure sores from sitting in his wheelchair. He also has developed respiratory infections from fluid pooling in his lungs from the long testing sessions.

Ethan’s mother managed — after immense bureaucratic hassle — to get a waiver, good for one year.

I initially thought I’d blog about this article because it’s catchy and exciting and filled with all sorts of easy, low-hanging outrage.

And yes, it’s easy to point at these cases and accuse the state officials of being idiots. I know it’s easy; I’ve done it a lot. But it’s also, I’ve decided, the wrong thing to do.

The administrators who make decisions like this, who make decisions like suspending students for Pop-Tarts or poems, who make other sorts of jaw-droppingly stupid decisions… are not idiots. I don’t doubt for a second that, in most cases, if they believed that they wouldn’t be punished or criticized for making exceptions, that they would go ahead and apply policy in a common sense manner, giving exceptions to students like Michael and Ethan.

What they are is adept bureaucrats, with a cunning sense of survival. They are also moral cowards, after a fashion. And yes, that’s a failing. But we get the government we deserve. We get the policies we deserve. We get the bureaucrats we deserve. We’ve put a premium on moral cowardice; it’s rewarded.

If we want a school system that makes sense, a school system where wise administrators make wise decisions… then we need to be open to the possibility that this might require us to actually give the administrators some play on their leashes. And that might mean having to deal with some bad decisions from time to time; it might mean having to deal with a bit of corruption, racism, or sexism.

I don’t want to read any more stories about kids getting suspended for Pop Tarts. I don’t want to read any more stories about Michael and Ethan. I’d rather live in a world where even our officials are given room to make a few mistakes in judgment — because that means that they’ll be given room to do the right thing, too.

Florida sets lower goals for blacks, Hispanics

Florida’s race-based achievement goals are raising hackles, reports the Palm Beach Post. To qualify for a No Child Left Behind waiver, the state board of education set new goals based on race, ethnicity, poverty and disabilities.

. . .  by 2018, it wants 90 percent of Asian students, 88 percent of white students, 81 percent of Hispanics and 74 percent of black students to be reading at or above grade level. For math, the goals are 92 percent of Asian kids proficient, whites at 86 percent, Hispanics at 80 percent and blacks at 74 percent.

The new goals are realistic, state education officials said. Blacks and Hispanics will have to improve at faster rates than whites or Asians.

. . .  the percentage of white students scoring at or above grade level (as measured by whether they scored a 3 or higher on the reading FCAT) was 69 percent in 2011-2012, according to the state. For black students, it was 38 percent, and for Hispanics, it was 53 percent.

If each subgroup follows the trajectory in the strategic plan, all students will be 100 percent proficient by the 2022-2023 school year, according to the state education department.

Most of the states applying for NCLB waivers have set lower goals for black, Hispanic, low-income and disabled students. As long as the goals require low-scoring groups to improve more quickly, the U.S. Education Department has endorsed differential targets.

Virginia’s goals: Is ‘achievable’ OK?

Virginia’s “together and unequal” expectations for low-income, minority and disabled students received a federal waiver from No Child Left Behind, complained Andrew Rotherham, a former state school board member. He suggested more ambitious targets to narrow the achievement gap in Eduwonk.

The controversy “shows reformers’ fealty to ideology over implementation,” responds Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. If NCLB’s “objectives, carrots, and sticks are to actually motivate educators, and not just demoralize them, they must been seen as achievable.” b

To be sure, even Virginia officials have agreed that the goals put into their ESEA application weren’t ambitious enough; they will come back later this month with more challenging targets for their poor and minority students. That’s fair; groups that are further behind should be expected to make greater progress over time.

On Dropout Nation, RiShawn Biddle argues for common targets for all students: Virginia set low expectations for black, Latino and poor students because it’s reluctant to push “the strong reforms needed” to improve achievement, he writes.