The Address

At a private school in Vermont for boys with learning disabilities, students are challenged to memorize and recite Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, reports a Ken Burns documentary.

Teachers, language specialists, speech pathologists and therapists work with the boys, often one on one. Greenwood’s tuition for day students is $53,475, notes Linda Holmes on an NPR blog. For boarding students, it’s $68,890. “The chilling part of the film is to think about how many kids would benefit from, but don’t get, this kind of attention.”

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.

Why the special ed gap?

Some 13.1 percent of New York City charter school students receive special education services compared to 16.5 percent in traditional public schools. That’s because special-ed students are less likely to apply to charters, concludes Why the Gap?, a study by the Center on Reinventing Public Education. In addition, charters are less likely to place students in special education and more likely to “declassify” them.

There’s no evidence charter schools refuse to admit or “push out” disabled students, writes Marcus Winters, the lead researcher, in the New York Daily News.

Parents of students with special needs are less likely to choose to apply to charter schools, especially autistic students and students with a speech or language disability.

The reason isn’t clear. Disabled students enrolled in special preschools that feed into district schools may be inclined to stay within the system.

The gap grows by another 20% as students progress through the third grade. Nearly all of this growth occurs in the mildest and most subjectively diagnosed category of student disabilities: specific learning disability. That’s important because specific learning disability is a category widely recognized to be over-identified among low-performing students.

On average, students attending New York City’s charter schools “learn more than they would have in a traditional public school,” Winters writes. “Thus, it is possible that some students avoid the disability label because they perform well academically.”

More special-needs students enter charter elementary schools than exit, Winters writes.

The difference is that when charter school students with disabilities move, they usually end up in a traditional public school — perhaps because there are more of them, or perhaps because charters accept relatively few students in non-gateway grades — thus reducing the percentage of students with disabilities within the charter sector.

Mobility is high for special-needs students. They are somewhat more likely to leave a traditional public school than a charter.

New York now requires charter schools to set enrollment and attendance targets for students with disabilities, Winters writes. Bill de Blasio, who’s likely to be New York City’s next mayor, advocates requiring charter schools to serve students with special needs at the same rate as traditional public schools.

It would be easy to do: Just hand out more learning disability diagnoses and keep students from leaving special ed. But it wouldn’t be good for students.

A study of Milwaukee charters found similar results, writes Jay Greene. Charters there also were less likely to classify students as learning disabled. He thinks funding incentives are driving special ed placement.

Technology aids disabled students

Technology is helping high school students with learning disabilities take “middle college” courses.

How a Kansas farm town saved its school

With only 70 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, Walton School faced closure.  People in the small Kansas town saw the school as “the only thing standing between their community and a future as a ghost town, writes Susan Headden.  The district turned it into a K-4 charter school, the Walton Rural Life Center, with a hands-on curriculum linked to farming.

  One of only two such elementary schools in the country, Walton, which now has 170 students (it pulls from outside the district), is considered an unqualified success. It scores in the top 5 percent on the state’s standardized achievement tests; it has been celebrated by the U.S. Department of Education; and educators come from across the country to learn its secrets. The school is so popular that its waiting list, now at 40, extends as far out as 2015. Some parents try to register their children while they are still in the womb.

Natise Vogt, the principal, says her school “is not out to produce the next generation of American farmers.”

 Walton picked agriculture for three simple reasons: kids love it, Kansas is a farm state, and as it turns out, there is almost nothing in elementary education that can’t be explained by relating it to cows and plows.

Take eggs. If second-grade teacher Staci Schill were running a standard classroom, she would be drilling her students on double-digit addition with the help of a prescribed textbook. There is still some of this kind of instruction, but building lessons around the agricultural theme lets kids see how they use their math facts in daily life. In this case, the students sell eggs produced by a small coop of hens. Every morning they rush out to collect and wash the eggs, inspect them for cracks, and box them for sale for $2 a dozen.  (They recently bought a sheep with the proceeds.) The students learn not just how to tell the difference between a Delaware Blue and a Rhode Island Red, but also about profit and loss and, when the chickens don’t lay enough to meet projections, supply and demand.

Walton kids take their rulers and protractors to everything from tractor tires to goat horns. They learn their ounces, cups, and pints by measuring grain for animal feed and oats for granola. Math and science come alive with trips to the grain elevator and a cruise inside a modern tractor, complete with GPS. The fourth-graders recently made a mockup of a wind turbine, learning about things like torque and the behavior of different blades.

Walton is attracting students with disabilities such as Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit disorder: 25 percent of students have special needs, nearly double the rate for the district.

 

‘Special’ kids

Should We Stop Telling Our Kids That They’re Special? asks Erika Christakis, a Harvard staffer, in Time.  Before the everyone’s-special era, “there was a tendency to view children not as unique individuals but as a monolithic category of people to be managed, controlled, and often ignored,” she writes. Many kids were “abandoned, emotionally and academically.”

Take learning disabilities. Before each child became “special,” a child with a learning disability could face a decade or more of agony and a fast track to the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder. But changes in pedagogy that support atypical learning styles and abilities have opened up opportunities for millions of kids whose failures would have carried a costly public price tag. That’s easy to forget when people decry the coddling-and-cosseting trend.

Similarly, girls, children of color, gay teens, children with physical disabilities, even kids with allergies or unique religious and cultural attributes have all benefited from the chance to feel “special” and as worthy as any child of protection and respect.

I don’t know. As a baby boomer, I thought my parents believed I was special just for being me. I had to prove myself to the rest of the world. On the other hand, schools — and the culture at large — is much more supportive of kids who are different in a variety of ways.

If it works for struggling math students …

Explicit instruction in math — once the traditional way to teach — works for struggling and learning-disabled students. It would work for all students, argues Barry Garelick on Education News.

What Works Clearinghouse finds strong evidence that explicit instruction is an effective intervention, stating: “Instruction during the intervention should be explicit and systematic. This includes providing models of proficient problem solving, verbalization of thought processes, guided practice, corrective feedback, and frequent cumulative review.”.

Also, the final report of the President’s National Math Advisory Panel (pdf) states: “Explicit instruction with students who have mathematical difficulties has shown consistently positive effects on performance with word problems and computation.

Learning disability diagnoses increased for years until the advent of early intervention programs for high-risk students, Garelick writes. Now fewer students are being labeled as learning disabled. He believes effective interventions, such as explicit, systematic instruction, deserve some of the credit.

 

EEOC: Requiring diploma may violate disabilities act

Requiring job applicants to have a high school diploma may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to a letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. From the Washington Times:

The “informal discussion letter” from the EEOC said an employer’s requirement of a high school diploma, long a standard criterion for screening potential employees, must be “job-related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity.”

Employers could run afoul of the ADA if their requirement of a high school diploma “‘screens out’ an individual who is unable to graduate because of a learning disability that meets the ADA’s definition of ‘disability,’” the EEOC explained.

While the letter doesn’t carry the force of law, employers can’t afford to ignore it, labor lawyers say. I doubt “help wanted” ads will say: “High school diploma required, unless you have a learning disability.” Perhaps they’ll be allowed to say “high school diploma preferred.”

Employers don’t like to hire dropouts — even those who’ve earned a GED — because they fear they’re unable to work within a system.

Some fear more high school students will drop out if they see employers no longer require a diploma for entry-level jobs.

What do we need to know on disability ed?

What do teachers and parents need to know on educating students with learning disabilities and students with emotional and behavioral problems? What should researchers be investigating? As a “crowd-sourcing” exercise, John Wills Lloyd is looking for questions that can be “investigated using rigorous scientific methods.”

For example:

Does RTI really help prevent problems in (a) reading, (b) writing, (c) math, and (d) social-behavioral outcomes? Does effectiveness vary by age?

The National Board for Education Sciences is inviting comments on research priorities.


Good teaching prevents learning disabilities

The learning disabilities epidemic may be waning, writes Mike Petrilli on Education Next.

In Rethinking Special Education for a New Century, Fordham and the Progressive Policy Institute argued that “most children with learning disabilities suffered from poor reading instruction, not an underlying neurological problem.” Good prevention programs could prevent children from being designated as learning disabled, they wrote.

This thinking found its way into the No Child Left Behind act via the Reading First program, and into the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act via “Response to Intervention” strategies. In both cases, the focus was on identifying children at risk for reading problems early, and intervening quickly with research-based, rigorous, direct instruction.

The percentage of kids with learning disabilities, which was rising rapidly, has  dropped by 11 percent in five years, Petrilli writes. Why aren’t we talking about that? It’s not that often that something works in education.