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?

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.

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.

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.

Accountability worked — for some — in Texas

Texas’ test-based accountability system, introduced in 1993 under Gov. George W. Bush, improved academic performance and earnings (by age 25) for students in schools at risk of a low-performance rating, but hurt students in higher-scoring schools, according to a study reported in Education Next.

. . . pressure on schools to avoid a low performance rating led low-scoring students to score significantly higher on a high-stakes math exam in 10th grade. These students were also more likely to accumulate significantly more math credits and to graduate from high school on time. Later in life, they were more likely to attend and graduate from a four-year college, and they had higher earnings at age 25.

These schools increased math courses for students who’d failed the eighth-grade exam and boosted staffing and instructional time, the analysis found.

However, higher-performing schools seeking a “recognized” rating were likely to more low-scoring students to special education to exempt their scores from lowering the school’s overall rating.  These students were less likely to complete college and earned less at age 25.

“High-stakes testing creates strong incentives to game the system,” conclude the authors.

Preschool pays — for kids and investors


First graders play during recess. Photo: Chris Detrick, Salt Lake Tribune

“Pay for Success” is succeeding in Salt Lake City. Expanding preschool cut special-ed spending dramatically. Most of the savings will go to repay investors who funded the expansion, reports the Salt Lake Tribune.

Private funding allowed about 600 students to enroll in public and private preschool programs in 2013. Of those students, 110 4-year-olds were expected to need special education during their kindergarten year.

But only one of the students — who are now in the first grade — has required special education, which translates to about $281,000 in cost avoidance for Utah’s public education system.

Goldman Sachs and J.B. Pritzker committed $7 million to the pay-for-success program.

United Way of Salt Lake has cut a check for $267,000 to cover 95 percent of the first-year savings.

Once investors are repaid, with interest, they’ll receive 40 percent of ongoing cost savings until the participating students complete sixth grade.

An Pay for Success project that tried to reduce recidivism at New York City’s Riker’s Island jail failed this summer, notes the New York Times. Goldman Sachs lost its money. The project was canceled.

Pay for what works


Salt Lake City uses social-impact bonds to fund high-quality preschool for at-risk children.

There’s a wild and crazy idea in funding social programs, writes AEI’s Katharine B. Stevens: Pay for what works — and stop paying for ideas that don’t work.

New York’s Rikers Island Jail tried a program to reduce youth recidivism that worked elsewhere, but failed at Rikers. Thanks to Pay for Success, also known as social-impact- bonds, it was evaluated rigorously and lost funding when it proved ineffective. Other ways of keeping juveniles out of jail will be explored.

Less than 1 percent of billions of public dollars spent annually on social services goes to programs that have evidence of actually accomplishing their goals,” writes Stevens. What’s unusual is that an idea was tried — and abandoned — without any cost to taxpayers.

1. The government and investors work together to find a social service provider with a rigorously-documented track record of success that proves their program is worth investing in.

2. Investors pay that service provider to run a scale-up of the program, aiming to improve specific, agreed-on outcomes for a defined group of at-risk individuals.

3. After the program is implemented for several years, the results are evaluated to see if the program achieved its goals.

4. If, and only if, the program is proven successful, the government pays investors back their original investment plus “success payments” out of the taxpayer dollars saved by preventing expensive problems that would have occurred without the program.

5. If the program isn’t successful, like Rikers Island, the government pays nothing and the program is closed.

Two private investors, Goldman Sachs and J.B. Pritzker, have put $6.8 million into the Utah High Quality Preschool Initiative. If Utah saves money on special education for preschool graduates, the state will use the savings to repay the investors.

Six Pay For Success projects have been approved so far and more are in the pipeline, writes Stevens. All are focused on preventing problems.

Mom billed $77K for disabled son’s records

Though diagnosed with an intellectual disability, Mitchell Smith passed mainstream classes in K-12, earned a high school diploma and planned to enroll at a local college with special-ed support guaranteed by Michigan law till the age of 26.

Mitchell Smith

Mitchell Smith

When Goodrich Area Schools denied his request and recommended a segregated program for disabled adults, his mother, Sherry Smith, filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all e-mails related to Mitchell. The school system claimed it would cost $77,718.75 and require 2 1/4 years of full-time clerical labor to provide the records, reports Reason‘s Hit & Run.

The college “would continue special services, life skills, employment skills, all the services that he needed and that he was receiving throughout his entire K–12 school career,” says Sherry Smith, “and it includes the academic component, which Mitchell strongly desires.”

Superintendent Michelle Imbrunone wrote:

Goodrich Area Schools believes the total cost to fulfill this FOIA will be $77,718.75…It will be necessary to hire someone to assist us with sorting through the email content you have requested. The current estimate is that it may require up to 4,687.5 hours at the current clerical hourly employee rate of $16.58 per hour.

On July 1, Michigan’s amended FOIA law went into effect allowing requesters to sue if they believe they’re being overcharged. The court must assign punitive damages if it finds a public body has “arbitrarily and capriciously charged an unreasonable fee,” reports the Detroit Free Press.

The Smiths hired an attorney who refiled the FOIA request on July 1 and added a Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) request. It took four weeks for the district to turn over hundreds of pages of emails. There was no charge.