Accountable for binder stuffing

“Mrs. Lipstick” teaches special education students who are too disabled to take standardized tests. Instead, teachers assemble binders with worksheets students have filled out to show they’ve been taught the same curriculum as non-disabled students. There’s no time to design and teach meaningful lessons, she writes on Organized Chaos.

I’m supposed to give a child a meaningless worksheet, briefly teach the subject and then re-teach it over and over again until the child can perform it for that worksheet only. Then I put the worksheet into a plastic sleeved binder along with all the other worksheets that have been a complete waste of time and I submit it for a grade. A meaningless grade because the child isn’t actually expected to know the information because I wasn’t expected to actually teach the information. It is a binder just for show.

Parents of intellectually disabled children don’t want this, she writes.

I can’t imagine one of my parents saying, “Oh yes, I want to know that my child can identify the Powhatan Indians on a worksheet. . . . That’s more important than knowing how to safely cross the street, identifying the letters, telling me that they love me, or counting to 10. And make sure it is on a worksheet. Not a fun hands-on activity that can help my child distinguish between American Indians and settlers, but a worksheet.”

Why spend the time on worksheets and binders? It’s supposed to show special education teachers are being held accountable, she writes.

Why should all children be taught the same lessons, regardless of their abilities?

Feds crack down on special ed efficiency

South Carolina has been hit by $36 million in U.S. Education Department penalties for “making tough but necessary cuts to all school spending in the midst of the Great Recession, special education included,” writes Education Gadfly. The “asinine” decision teaches states a perverse lesson:  ”Finding ways to boost efficiency in special education literally may not be worth the trouble.”

 

Union’s charter school faces closure

To prove a union contract is no barrier to school success, the United Federation of Teachers opened its own UFT Charter School in Brooklyn in 2005, notes Gotham Schools. After seven years of turmoil, the union-run K-9 school may be closed for low performance.

Fewer than a third of students are reading on grade level, and the math proficiency rate among eighth-graders is less than half the city average.

On the school’s most recent progress report, released last week, the Department of Education gave it a D and ranked it even lower than one of its co-located neighbors, J.H.S. 166, which the city tried to close last year and now has shortlisted again for possible closure.

Two years ago, the school received a three-year extension on its charter instead of five years because of performance concerns.

Test scores have plummeted since then, the school has cycled through multiple principals, and enrollment is down to just 70 percent of capacity.

The UFT Charter School performs worse than other schools in the district, despite enrolling fewer special education students and far fewer English Learners, reports Gotham Schools.

The UFT picked “teacher leaders” to run the elementary and middle schools. Turnover has been high.

“We are continuing to see progress and innovation at many teacher-led schools,” American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten told Gotham Schools in an e-mail. She praised Green Dot New York Charter School in the Bronx, a union partner with a “thin contract” that gives teachers some, but not all, their usual rights.

Fordham: Spend smarter on special ed

Spending more on special ed simply may not do much for kids,” writes Checker Finn on Gadfly, citing Boosting the Quality and Efficiency of Special Education, a new Fordham report by Nate Levenson. By emulating the staffing levels and practices of efficient districts, the high-spending districts could save $10 billion — and improve quality, according to the report.

Special Education

Special education has been “downright hostile” to “innovation, efficiency, or productivity boosters, writes Finn. It “remains fixated on inputs, ratios, and services,” rather than student outcomes.

. . .  the same basic dysfunctions that ail general education afflict special education too: middling (or worse) teacher quality; an inclination to throw “more people” at any problem; a reluctance to look at cost-effectiveness; a crazy quilt of governance and decision-making authorities; a tendency to add rather than replace or redirect; and a full-on fear of results-based accountability. Yet the fates (as well as the budgets) of general and special education are joined. In many schools, the latter is the place to stick the kids who have been failed by the former—a major cause of the sky-high special-education-identification rates in many states and districts.

. . . To its discredit, federal law bars the teams that develop Individualized Education Programs for disabled pupils from considering the cost of the interventions and services that they are recommending.

Improve general education so fewer kids end up in special ed, Levenson urges. If special ed is necessary, design cost-effective interventions. Above all, end maintenance-of-effort requirements that assume students are being served if dollars are being spent, regardless of whether the money is being used to help students learn.

Virginia schools: ‘together and unequal’

“Together and unequal” is the new motto for Virginia schools, writes Andrew Rotherham, a former state school board member, in the Washington Post. With No Child Left Behind’s rewrite in limbo, Education Secretary Arne Duncan allowed states to set new performance targets. Virginia “took the stunning step of adopting dramatically different school performance targets based on race, ethnicity and income.”

President George W. Bush famously talked of “the soft bigotry of low expectations” in education, meaning the subtle ways educators and policymakers shortchange some students by expecting less of them.

Virginia’s new policy is anything but subtle. For example, under the new rules, schools are expected to have 78 percent of white students and 89 percent of Asian students passing Virginia’s Standards of Learning math tests but just 57 percent of black students, 65 percent of Hispanic students and 59 percent of low-income students. The goals for special-education students are even lower, at 49 percent. Worse, those targets are for 2017. The intermediate targets are even less ambitious — 36 percent for special-education students this year, for instance. Goals for reading will be set later.

Instead of setting lower targets for minority and poor students, Virginia could “provide substantially more support to these students and their schools,” writes Rotherham, a partner at the nonprofit Bellwether Education and an education columnist for Time.

The expectations aren’t high for any students (except maybe Asians), Rotherham adds on Eduwonk.

Virginia doesn’t give parents much choice if they’re not satisfied with the neighborhood school, he notes.

There are fewer than a handful of charter schools in the Commonwealth and Virgina’s charter school law consistently is ranked among the nation’s worst by policy organizations, public school choice is vociferously resisted, and county borders are treated like international lines when it comes to almost any hint of letting students cross them for better schooling options. I’m not a big supporter of private school choice but if the best Virginia can do is say to citizens and parents that its public schools will have 59 percent of poor students and 57 percent of black students passing state tests five years from now then what exactly is the argument for not allowing their parents to seek out better options?

The Obama administration signed off on Virginia NCLB waiver, Rotherham writes. Are they OK with this?

Discipline by race

Racial quotas in school discipline could be coming to Maryland, writes Hans Bader in the Examiner.

“As a lawyer who used to bring civil-rights cases for a living, I am very disturbed” by the Maryland State Board of Education’s proposed school discipline policy, Bader writes.

This proposed rule violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution by pressuring schools to discipline students based on their race, rather than their individual conduct and the content of their character.

. . . (The rule) would require school systems to discipline and suspend students in numbers roughly in proportion to their racial percentage of the student body, and require school systems that currently don’t do so to implement plans to eliminate any racially “disproportionate impact” over a three-year period. Thus, it is imposing quotas in all but name.

The Obama administration has supported the use of “disparate impact” to evaluate school discipline policies.

The Maryland board also wants schools to discipline special education students — including those diagnosed with behavioral disorders — at the ame rate as other students. However, there’s no plan for gender balance in school discipline.

Of course, reducing out-of-school suspensions makes a lot of sense, if it can be done without threatening the safety of other students.

Special ed needs waivers too

“Flexibility is education’s new buzzword” – except for special education, writes Miriam Freedman, author of Fixing Special Education, in EdSource Today.

. . . more than 6 million students with disabilities, their parents, 13,809 school districts, 98,706 public schools, and 5,453 charter schools all have to meet the same rigid legal and regulatory requirements, regardless of the local situation or unique needs of the child or community. In 2002, studies found some 814 federal monitoring requirements for compliance by state and local agencies for programs for students with disabilities.

Parents should be able to “opt out of requirements that they don’t need or want, especially when children are doing well,” argues Freedman, who blogs at School Law Pro.

Time-wasting bureaucracy expands to charters

The “pathologies and pettifogging bureaucracy that so hinder district schools” are being forced on charters, writes Rick Hess. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Education is demanding that 44 charter schools in Washington, D.C. prove they’re training teachers to serve students with diabetes — even if they have no such students.

Schools must provide:

. . . a “specific, narrative response to each of the complainants allegations;” “the school’s policies and procedures on, and narrative descriptions of, the school’s practice applicable to, the care of students with diabetes, including all relating to the provision of diabetes-related services;” “a description of–and all methods relating to–the method by which the school identifies students who have diabetes;” “copies of the section 504 and all other health plans for each school student with diabetes;” “the number of school staff knowledgeable about diabetes, including registered nurses, who are present at the school and the settings in which such staff are required to be present;” “diabetes-related training the school has provided or arranged for school staff during the 2010/2011 and the 2011/2012 school years;” and oodles more. The complaints included allegations that some schools did not have “adequate numbers of properly trained staff to monitor and administer medication” to students when they’re transported to and from school or during extra-curricular activities and field trips.

It’s usually safer to let juvenile diabetics manage their own medication than to let an unfamiliar adult take over. But this isn’t just about diabetes, Hess writes.

. . . multiply this little Kafkaesque exercise by all the imaginable complaints about every category of special need, every statute and regulation relating to public funds, every conceivable complaint that some special interest or grudge-holding group can surface, and expect schools to bulletproof themselves against all of that, and you realize how easy it is to prevent educators from actually focusing on education.

Compliance isn’t really about safety. If teacher training doesn’t guarantee teachers will  be prepared to teach multiplying fractions, I doubt spending some of that time training on diabetes, asthma, allergies, juvenile arthritis — and all the other medical conditions that might or might not occur — will turn teachers into competent paramedics.

Charter schools and special ed

Charter schools enroll fewer special education students than traditional public schools in most states, concludes a GAO study. In 2009-2010, 11 percent of students enrolled in traditional public schools were students with disabilities compared to about 8 percent of students enrolled in charter schools.

While traditional public schools were more likely than charters to report 8 to 12 percent of students had disabilities,  “a higher percentage of charter schools enrolled more than 20 percent of students with disabilities.” Many charter schools “faced challenges serving students with severe disabilities,” the GAO found.

“No single public school is expected to serve students with every single type of disability,” writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. In Montgomery County, Maryland, where he lives, 26 schools have virtually no severely disabled students and another 52 have less than 2 percent. Five schools enroll 40+ percent with severe disabilities.

What Montgomery County is doing—what every school district of any size does—is to create special programs at particular schools that can better meet the needs of students with particular disabilities.

Most charter schools are small. Some contract out for special ed services with the neighboring district. Others form consortia with other charters to share special ed resources. But most parents with a high-needs child will not find superior services at a charter school compared to what their district has to offer.

There are exceptions: I visited two charter schools that were created to educated disabled students in mainstream classrooms. It takes a lot of effort — and extra funding — to do it well. Both charters provided special classes to kindergarteners with developmental delays to prevent a disability diagnosis. Another charter, a middle school, was able to move some learning disabled students out of special ed by getting them caught up academically. I think charter founders should look at designing schools to meet the needs of ADHD and Asperger’s students — and others who could benefit but won’t ever have a disability diagnosis. There’s a niche there.

Good news, ugly truth on pre-k ‘savings’

Michigan will save $39,000 in public costs for every high-risk child in pre-kindergarten — $100,000 in Detroit — according to a Fisher Foundation report. These “investment” claims should  be taken with a grain of salt, writes Sara Mead, who links to Lisa Guernsey’s analysis of the claim that preschool saves $10 for every $1 spent.

Very high-quality programs — which are not the norm — can improve outcomes for high-risk kids, Mead writes. But only 3 percent of savings from improved school readiness flow to K-12 schools, the report estimates.

. . . the really flashy high-value savings come from benefits far down the road, such as reduced crime and prison costs, (that) are hard to capture to pay for pre-k. And when early childhood advocates cite such diffuse and distant benefits to claim that the “value of investing in school readiness for just one child at risk of academic failure in Detroit, Michigan, is…about $100,000,” I worry that the perception such claims are oversold may actually increase skepticism about the value of pre-k investments, rather than building support.

It’s more persuasive to cite immediate savings to the school system, Mead argues. The Fisher researchers estimate pre-k saves $2,374 per child in reduced special education and grade retention costs, $3,376 in Detroit.  Michigan spends about $4,453 per child in pre-k. If that’s true, pre-k isn’t free but it’s awfully cheap.