Ed Dept: Disabled have right to compete in sports

Disabled students must have “equal access” to school sports, the U.S. Education Department ruled Friday. If there’s no “reasonable” way to include disabled athletes on school teams, schools must set up separate programs.

“Participation in extracurricular athletics can be a critical part of a student’s overall educational experience,” said Seth Galanter, of the department’s civil rights office. “Schools must ensure equal access to that rewarding experience for students with disabilities,” he added.

The directive doesn’t require schools to open sports teams to everyone, regardless of athletic ability, officials said. But it’s not all clear what will be considered “reasonable.” One example — providing “visual clues” in addition to a starter pistol to allow hearing disabled students to compete in track events — seems like the sort of thing any school would and should do. The second — waiving the “two-hand touch” finish at swim meets to allow one-armed swimmers to compete — also seems fair. But it raises a question: Can a one-armed student swim fast enough to make the team?

In 1972, Title IX forced schools to offer equal athletic opportunities to girls. But there are lots of girls in high schools. There aren’t that many one-armed students who want to compete in swimming.

It was also welcomed by disabled student competitors, among them Casey Followay, a 15-year-old high school track athlete confined to a wheelchair by a birth defect, who under current rules, has to race on his own.

“This will help me become a better athlete conditioning- wise, because I have something to push for,” said Followay, who filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights in 2011 asking that he be allowed to run alongside, but not against, the able-bodied.

If he’s not running against able-bodied runners, is he really on the team? He needs to compete against other wheelchair athletes. Schools are supposed to work with community groups to set up regional teams, if they don’t have enough disabled athletes in each sport. That could be expensive.

“The problem is this was done without any deliberation in Congress and no public input and it is not clear how expansive it will be,” says Fordham’s Mike Petrilli. “Just how far must a school district go to be compliant?”

Expect lawsuits charging “separate and unequal” sports opportunities for disabled students, predicts Rick Hess in When Good Intentions Run Amok.

Do charters serve fewer disabled students?

Charter schools are doing a better job serving special-needs students than reported, according to a New York State Special Education Enrollment Analysis by the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

Nationwide, charters serve fewer special-ed students, according to a General Accounting Office (GAO) report. However, the New York study finds “important variations in the enrollment patterns of students with special needs,” said Robin Lake, CRPE director.

In New York, charter middle and high schools enroll more special-needs students than district-run schools, according to CRPE. Charter elementary schools enroll fewer.

Some district-run elementary schools offer programs for special-needs students, the report noted.

Charter schools at the elementary level might also be less inclined to label students as needing special education services. This raises a troubling question: are charter schools under-enrolling or under-identifying students with special needs, or are district-run schools over-identifying them?

Instead of setting statewide special education enrollment targets, policy makers should set “school or regional targets that pay careful attention to those very specific factors that influence such enrollment choices as locations, grade-spans, and neighborhoods,” the report advises.

Setting targets assumes that every school should include the same percentage of disabled students. I’d like to see more schools (charter or district-run) designed for students with specific special needs, such as attention deficit disorder or autism, and more designed for academically gifted students.

Autistic boy records teachers’ insults

Ten-year-old Akian Chafetz, who is autistic, was bullied at school — by his teacher and aide in a class for autistic children, charges a New Jersey father. Stuart Chaifetz sent his son to school with a recorder in his pocket.

A teacher or aide can be heard saying angrily, “Who are you talking to? Nobody. Knock it off.” Akian is also told several times to shut his mouth.

After being scolded several times, Akian begins to cry and the administrator said, “Go ahead and scream because guess what? You’re going to get nothing until your mouth is shut.”

At another point, the teacher or aide calls Akian a “bastard” when he will not stop crying.

Chaifetz posted the recording on a Facebook site, No More Teacher Bullies, and took it to the district office. The aide was fired, he says, but the teacher, who has tenure, was transferred to another school.

However, Cherry Hill Superintendent Maureen Reusche said in a statement that “the individuals who are heard on the recording raising their voices and inappropriately addressing children no longer work in the district and have not since shortly after we received the copy of the recording.”

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Chaifetz isn’t the first parent to send a disabled child to school with a recording device, notes ABC. “In March, two Alabama teachers were put on administrative leave after the mother of 10-year-old Jose Salinas, who has cerebral palsy, attached an audio recorder to the bottom of his wheelchair and caught them scolding him about drooling, among other things.”

I predict many more parents will try this if they think their child isn’t able to tell them what goes on at school.

Ed Week‘s Nirvi Shah cites other cases and also thinks we’ll see more covert recording.

Update: The Cherry Hill special education teacher says she was at a meeting when the aides yelled at Akian and heard no abuse of the boy. The father says he’s got several more hours of tape that implicates the teacher.

Delaware cuts 'read alouds' on reading test

In response to a decline in reading scores, Delaware officials say they’ve cut down on  “read alouds” for special education students taking reading tests, reports The News Journal.

In 2009, 6,321 students had portions of the reading test read aloud to them. In 2010, 1,435 got that assistance during the test.

Accommodations on tests are supposed to measure disabled students’ abilities fairly, not inflate their scores, points out Christina Samuels of On Special Education.  A report by the National Center on Educational Outcomes report finds conflicting research on whether “read-aloud” accommodations raise scores for disabled students. “It also seems particularly challenging to assess students’ reading skills without actually asking them to read,” Samuels writes.

Indeed.

Do boys need single-sex schools?

Boys are more likely to be labeled disabled, less likely to be in gifted classes and much less likely to earn a high school diploma, New York City schools have found. The city is looking for ways to help boys succeed in school that probably will include “more single-sex schools, as well as mentoring, tutoring and other after-school programs,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

“A high level of physical energy and impulsivity tends to be devalued or even punished in schools,” says Steve Nelson, head of the progressive Calhoun School, a private school.

Charter schools are opening boys-only schools in low-income black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

The Eagle Academy, which started in the Bronx in 2004, was aimed to combat citywide graduation rates of 30% or lower for African-American males. Although the school has an 83% graduation rate this year, up from 80% in 2009, citywide numbers for African-American men are in the mid-40s, and are still “very, very troubling,” said (David) Banks, Eagle’s president and founding Principal of Eagle Academy.

. . . Young men who want to attend the school are selected by lottery. Mr. Banks — whose schools feature mandatory parental involvement, longer school days and Saturday classes — wants to open four more schools in the next five years.

“All-boys schools create safe environments in which boys can learn,” concludes a recent report on single-sex schools (pdf) serving black and Latino boys, notes Susan Sawyers on HechingerEd.  “An emphasis on building strong relationships among the boys, teachers, and staff proved important to engaging the boys in the learning process,” said New York University professor Pedro Noguera, an author of the Black and Latino Male Schools Intervention Study, at a conference in April. The study looked at seven schools that were traditional public, public charters and private schools.

The authors found that all-boys schools nurtured their students social and emotional development; challenged stereotypes about African-American and Latino male identity; infused strong academic expectations and college preparation as part of the boys’ social identity; and made strong efforts to shore up basic academic skills before moving on to more challenging offerings.

However, Noguera also said that the push toward single-sex schools for low-income boys is “an intervention in search of a theory” and named the report just that. Unlike all-girls schools, which are based on the theory of expanding gender role options for girls, all-boys schools are not based on a “shared understanding” of what boys actually need.

But it’s clear they need something more than they’re getting now.

The kids nobody wants

The Kids Nobody Wants are the ones guaranteed to pull down test scores and graduation rates, writes teacher Arthur Goldstein on GothamSchools.

Queens Collegiate is a shiny new school on the third floor of closure-slated Jamaica High School. Jamaica’s UFT chapter leader, James Eterno, told me that when Queens Collegiate got a special education/ESL student it wasn’t equipped to handle, they sent the kid right back downstairs to Jamaica.

Some schools, like mine (Francis Lewis High School) take kids we know won’t graduate — they’re on track for “alternate assessment” instead of academic diplomas. And every one of these kids — about 2 percent of our total population — is counted against us when they fail to achieve a traditional graduation. You might say they are dropouts on the day they enroll.

When these teens go on to job training programs, that’s considered worthless by the district’s school evaluation system, Goldstein writes.

Immigrants may need five years in high school to learn English and earn a diploma. Is that a sign of failure?

When California’s school evaluation system started — years before No Child Left Behind — high schools created “opportunity” schools for “at-risk” students. “Opportunity” students’ very low scores were reported separately, even if they were taking classes on their old campus.

No iPods for parents

Parents of disabled students won’t get a free IPod Nano for filling out a survey, Polk County, Florida school officials have announced.

The $350,000 that was going to be used for the iPods came from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, not from stimulus funds, as previously reported by Bay News 9 in Tampa.

The Florida Department of Education said IDEA funds must be used to help students directly.

Vouchers for disabled students

Special education vouchers would enable parents of disabled students to shop for the services their child needs, writes Jay P. Greene in City Journal. Currently, parents have to deal with a system that promises services but often fails to deliver.  Some become aggressive advocates for their children; most accept what they get.

Every student identified as disabled could get a voucher worth no more money than the public schools would spend to educate that child (with more severely disabled students receiving more generous vouchers). Students could then use the vouchers to attend private school if they wanted. No one would have to use the vouchers, and students choosing to remain in public schools would retain all the rights they already have there. Disabled students would simply gain a mechanism — a market mechanism — to help them make their rights a reality.

Vouchers could save money, since private schools tend to be cheaper than public schools.

In Florida, for instance, where a special-ed voucher program is already operating, the average cost of a voucher for disabled students is $7,206—far below what taxpayers spend for the average special-ed student in public school.

Second, vouchers reduce the public schools’ tendency to move ever more students into special education, including many who aren’t in fact disabled but are disruptive or just struggling academically. . . .  schools may think twice about overidentifying disabilities for financial reasons if, every time they do so, they risk losing students and all their funding to private schools.

“Florida public schools have indeed become somewhat more reluctant to classify students as disabled with the increased availability of vouchers,” writes Greene, who studied the Florida system with Marcus Winters. The found Florida students are more likely to receive appropriate services in private schools and are less likely to be bullied.

The voucher program serves a representative distribution of disabled students, so that students with more severe disabilities, as well as students from low-income or minority backgrounds, can find what they need in private schools, just as their more advantaged counterparts can. . . . Finally, the public schools feel some competitive pressure to improve their own services for disabled students, even as they become more restrained in categorizing students as disabled. In fact, Winters and I found that achievement levels for disabled students remaining in the public schools improved significantly when those students had more options to leave.

Georgia, Ohio and Utah are using special-ed vouchers as well.

Vouchers for low-income students also could save inner-city Catholic schools, which offer an alternative to black and Hispanic students, writes Patrick J. McCloskey, author of The Street Stops Here. These schools have been closing, unable to cover their costs with donations or tuition.

(Vouchers) save money, too, since the public school system spends about $20,000 annually on each student, while the Catholic schools achieve their superior results for about $5,500 per urban elementary school student and $8,500 per high schooler. (An adequate voucher would cost slightly more, say $6,500 for elementary school and $9,500 for high school students, to include funding for remedial education for many current public schoolers.)

Of course,  teachers’ unions would fight hard against vouchers.

Special-ed parents win in court

Parents of disabled students can seek reimbursement for private school tuition, even if their child didn’t receive special education services in public school, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week. The case involved an Oregon high school students in the Forest Grove district who was diagnosed as learning disabled only after he enrolled in private school.

If the public school can’t provide an appropriate education to a disabled students, parents have the right to seek a private placement at public expense. “Nationally, about 90,000 special-education students are in private schools, most of them referred by their public schools,” reports the New York Times.

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the opinion for the 6-3 majority.

“It would be strange for the act to provide a remedy, as all agree it does, where a school district offers a child inadequate special-education services but to leave parents without relief in the more egregious situation in which the school district unreasonably denies a child access to such services altogether,” he wrote.

Why not extend choice to all parents, asks Jay P. Greene. “Why should any child, disabled or not, be made to wait for an appropriate education?”

Portfolios replace tests for more kids

Despite the high cost of grading, Virginia is letting more students submit portfolios of their work rather than pass tests, reports the Washington Post. At first, only students with serious cognitive disabilities could bypass the state test, but now Virginia allows portfolios to evaluate “students with learning disabilities or beginning English skills.”

. . . Pass rates for portfolio tests are relatively high, which helps educators meet academic benchmarks but raises questions about the tests’ value in rating schools.

Teachers spend hours assembling each students’ portfolio, which shows work throughout the school year. Then other teachers must be hired to evaluate the work.

Parents of special education students often say the portfolio gives a more accurate picture of their child’s progress. However, some think grading is too easy.

Andrea Rosenthal of Oak Hill, the mother of a Fairfax special education student, said high pass rates on portfolio tests are often misleading because many children who score well on them are far below grade level on other measures. “It benefits the state, not the child, to say they are at grade level when they are not,” Rosenthal said

That is, it’s easier to meet No Child Left Behind’s requirements for educating disabled students and English Learners if they’re judged subjectively.