Study: Too few minorities get special ed help

Nineteen percent of special education student are black, even though blacks make up only 14 percent of enrollment. Yet, blacks and Latinos are under-represented in special education, argues a federally funded study published in the Educational Researcher

Minority students are missing out on special services because they’re much less likely to be identified as disabled, according to Penn State researcher Paul Morgan and colleagues.

“Minority children are much more likely to be exposed to risk factors themselves that increase the likelihood of having a disability,” Morgan said in a video. “Exposure to lead, low birth weight [and] other risk factors for disability have often not been accounted for in the analyses when investigating minority disproportionate representation.”

Federal policy is based on the premise that too many low-income, black and Latino students are diagnosed with disabilities, notes U.S. News. “Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, states are required to use federal funding to intervene with students sooner in hopes of reducing the proportion of minority students in special education.”

In fact, compared with otherwise similar white children, African-American children were 77 percent less likely to be identified as having health impairments, 63 percent less likely to be identified as having speech or language impairments and 58 percent less likely to be identified as having learning disabilities, the researchers found.

Hispanic children were more likely than African-American children to be identified as having a disability, but were still significantly less likely – by as much as 73 percent in some cases – to be identified with one than white children.

The key word is “similar.”

Morgan assumes that special education leads to helpful services, rather than lower expectations. Is that usually true?

Update: Federal special education officials and civil rights advocates are questioning the study’s methodology, reports Ed Week.

After special ed, what comes next?

When special-education students leave high school, what comes next? Education Week looks at the transition from special education to college, job training and the workforce.

Sixty-two percent of special-ed students earn a high school degree in four years, compared to 81 percent of all students. But some graduates haven’t met the same standards as mainstream students.

. . . a federal study that tracked youths with disabilities eight years after they left school found that 60 percent had enrolled in college, not much lower than the 67 percent reported for youths without disabilities. But students with disabilities were more likely to be enrolled in a community college or vocational school, as opposed to a four-year-college, than their typically developing peers.

Young people with disabilities are almost as likely to be working eight years later, but earn less than youths who hadn’t been in special education. A new federal law is trying to help special-ed students find better jobs.

Gloria Clark is a graduating senior at Decatur High School in Decatur GA.  Photo:  Michael A. Schwarz, Education Week

Gloria Clark, a graduating senior at Decatur High School in Decatur GA struggles with dyslexia, but is headed for college. Photo: Michael A. Schwarz, Education Week

Students with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, are the most likely to enroll in college. Most don’t identify themselves as disabled in college and receive no special supports.

A recent study found no difference in success rates for students who received help for learning disabilities and those who did not.

What helped was using the supports available to all students, such as tutoring, a math lab or a writing center. Seventy-four percent of students with learning disabilities who used these supports completed a degree compared with 35 percent of similar students who did not.

American Educator looks at teaching students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Charters are ‘new normal’ in New Orleans


KIPP Central City Academy students march in the 2012 Krewe of Pontchartrain parade.  Photo: Sabree Hill, UptownMessenger

Charters are the “new normal” in New Orleans, writes Richard Whitmire on Real Clear Education. Ten years after Katrina transformed the city’s schools, 95 percent of public school students attend charters.

Nationally, 5.8 percent of students attend charters.

Data on attendance, graduation rates or test scores don’t tell the full story, writes Whitmire.

Take KIPP Central City Academy, which replaced a low-performing school that was a football powerhouse. It’s the highest performing middle school in the Recovery School District — and it has a football team,  cheerleaders, a marching band and majorettes.

At Arthur Ashe Charter School, part of the FirstLine charter network, 37 percent of students have “learning challenges.” That’s sustainable because the new school funding system in New Orleans provides more money for students with special needs.

There is no “backfill” controversy over adding students in later grades, he adds. All the schools backfill and all take mid-year transfers. Students coming out of the judicial system are assigned to a school via a “round robin” system run by the RSD.

Test prep isn’t key to success at Success

What Explains Success at Success Academy? asks Charles Sahm in Education Next. Test prep isn’t the answer, concludes Sahm, education policy director at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

The New York City charter network’s students — predominantly from low-income black and Latino families — outscore suburban kids, he notes. “If the network were a single school, it would rank in the top 1 percent of the state’s 3,560 schools in math and the top 3 percent in English.”

Like other “no excuses” charter schools, Success has created a culture of discipline and high expectations. “Scholars” wear uniforms. The school day and year are longer. What’s distinctive  is “a laser focus on what is being taught, and how.

Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz  at a Harlem school. (Photo by Benjamin Lowy/Getty Images)

Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz at a Harlem school. (Photo by Benjamin Lowy/Getty Images)

Success Academy has developed its own challenging, content-rich English Language Arts (ELA) and math curricula.

English classes involve “project-based learning” and writing workshops.  Reading selections expose children to “relevant, important, beautiful material … diverse cultures, economic backgrounds, settings, and characters.”

In math, students are encouraged to develop their own strategies to solve problems. Teachers “plan the lesson with a clear goal and use precise questioning and a carefully designed set of activities to lead scholars to learn, develop, or master a new concept each day,” says Stacey Gershkovich, director of math and science.

Starting in kindergarten, every student “takes a full-period, experiment-based science class,” writes Sahm. “No wonder 100 percent of Success 4th graders and 8th graders passed the 2014 state science exams, 99 percent scoring an advanced rating.”

Success uses experiential learning to bring history to life. Second graders, for example, take part in a multiweek unit on the Brooklyn Bridge. They conduct experiments to learn the engineering principles behind bridge construction, read a biography of the project’s field engineer, Emily Roebling, and visit the bridge to record their observations.

Success schools aren’t test-prep factories where kids are drilled in the basics, Sahm writes.

I toured a Success middle school in Harlem during a 90-minute “flex” period. In one room, the chess team prepared for the national tournament; in another, students worked on the school newspaper; down the hall, students rehearsed a musical; in other rooms, students worked on art projects or learned computer coding. Success’s debate and chess teams have begun to win national awards.

The schools prepare students for state exams by giving practice tests and requiring extra work sessions on Saturday for those who do poorly. However, test prep doesn’t crowd out authentic learning, says Eva Moskowitz, the network’s founder. “You cannot ace these Common Core tests with test prep. Our kids can interpret the meaning of a poem because they’ve read so much poetry. . . . When we are prepping for math, it’s open-ended math questions.”

The Times asked current and former Success parents to write about their experiences at the schools. Some love it. Others say their kids were under too much pressure.

A father credits a Success school with helping his son move from special to general education. At the highly rated district school, “Jack” was expected to achieve only half what other students could do, writes Doug McCurry. Thanks to “small group instruction, speech and occupational therapy, in-school counseling and a great team of teachers” at Success Cobble Hill, the second grader “reads well above grade level, scores near the top of his class in math, writes with style and precision and loves science.”

‘Accountability’ proposal is anti-choice

The Charter School Accountability Agenda is a “front” for opponents of school choice and reform, writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. The authors, Center for Popular Democracy and In the Public Interest, have union backing, he writes.

The agenda includes requiring an “impact analysis” on how new charters would affect district-run schools. It’s “absurd” to let existing schools keep out the competition, Biddle writes. That’s especially true in cities: Urban charters improve achievement — and raise the odds students will earn a diploma and go to college — according to Stanford’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes and Rand studies.

KIPP charter students in Manhattan. Photo: Beth Fertig, WNYC.

KIPP charter students in Manhattan. Photo: Beth Fertig, WNYC.

The agenda would let district schools keep per-pupil funding when students transfer to charters. “Why should any district be entitled to receive dollars for kids they are no longer serving?” asks Biddle.

It also calls for charters to enroll as many special-needs students as traditional schools.

Charters have fewer special-ed students because they’re less likely to put a disability label on students with learning problems, Biddle writes. They focus on teaching struggling students instead of sticking them in a “special ed ghetto.”

The American Federation of Teachers, which endorsed the agenda, ran a very low-performing charter school in New York City, notes Biddle. The school met just one of 38 goals set by its authorizer and was “rated a failure mill” by the city’s education department. The school had little tolerance for special ed students.

UFT Charter meted out-of-school suspensions to 17.8 percent of special ed students in 2011-2012 and in-school suspensions to another 20 percent of them, according to data submitted by the school to the U.S. Department of Education. This is higher than the out-of-school and in-school suspension rates of  1.5 percent and 6.5 percent for kids in regular classrooms.

United Federation of Teachers, the New York City local, will close the K-8 school, but hopes to keep the high school going.

NYC union’s failing K-8 charter will close

Running a charter school is harder than the United Federation of Teachers thought. The New York City union will close its failing charter school’s elementary and middle school, but ask for authority to continue its high school.

Students read at UFT's charter school in 2013. Photo: Geoffrey Knox

A reading class at UFT’s charter school. Photo: Geoff Decker

“When the school opened in 2005, then-UFT President Randi Weingarten said its success would demonstrate that unions could play a starring role in efforts to improve the school system,” write Geoff Decker and Sarah Darville on Chalkbeat NY. Weingarten also hoped to show that a union contract was not an “impediment to success.”

The UFT Charter School has been one of the lowest-performing charters in the city.

“Under Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s new school-grading system, the school earned the lowest of four marks in all four categories, including the school environment and its success at closing the achievement gap,” write Decker and Darville.

Curiously, only 2 percent of the school’s students are English Learners and 10 percent –below the public-school average — have an Individual Education Plan.

Unions and charter schools don’t mix, writes Darren. Two California charters run by schools of education — UC Davis and Stanford — also closed due to poor performance, he observes.

Florida drops special-ed diploma

Florida’s special-ed students must take college-prep classes required for a standard diploma, reports The Ledger. A new state law has abolished the special diploma alternative. .

At Roosevelt Academy, a school for learning-disabled students in Lake Wales, ninth-graders were transferred from intensive math to Algebra I two months into the school year to comply with the law.

The special diploma is not accepted by state universities and may not be accepted by state colleges, technical centers, employers or the military.

But at Roosevelt Academy, teachers don’t encourage their students to go to college.

“We tell them that if you want to go to college, don’t come to our school,” said Phillip Miles, a life skills math teacher. “We’re preparing you for work, not college.”

Miles’ students are way behind in math. His class taught practical skills such as how to make a budget or calculate sales tax.

About 80 percent of Roosevelt Academy graduates have jobs by the time they collect their special diploma. That’s goal they and their parents set when creating an Individualized Education Plan.

Till now, special-ed students could earn a special diploma by mastering the “employment and community competencies” in the IEP and completing a semester of successful employment.

Now all students will have till age 22 to pursue a standard diploma — or settle for a certificate of completion.

Teachers are supposed to make college-prep courses accessible for disabled students.

In geometry, for example, a student who has trouble writing or speaking might point to an equilateral triangle rather than draw one or explain why it is equilateral.

. . . “They have to fail for four years before they even get a certificate of completion,” said Henry Smith, vocational teacher and career placement coordinator for Roosevelt. “I guarantee you the dropout rate is going to be astronomical.”

Seventeen states offer only a standard diploma, according to a 2013 report by the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

Parents choose special-ed charters

Charters designed for students with disabilities are renewing the “inclusion debate,” reports Arianna Prothero in Ed Week.

A student adds a Ninja Turtle head to his chart as a reward for completing a class activity at Arizona Autism Charter School. —Patrick Breen for Education Week
A student adds a Ninja Turtle head to his chart as a reward for completing a class activity at Arizona Autism Charter School.
—Patrick Breen for Education Week

Diana Diaz-Harrison opened a charter school in Phoenix for her son, who has autism, and similar students. The Arizona Autism Charter School, which enrolls 90 students, “is among dozens of charters nationwide that focus on serving students with disabilities,” writes Prothero.

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, requires that students with disabilities be taught in the “least restrictive environment.” That usually means mainstreaming students.

Some parents prefer a specialized school designed for their children’s needs.

About 100 charters are designed for special-ed students, according to the  Center for Education Reform. While some are disability-specific, others “serve children with a range of disabilities as well as their typically developing peers.”

Several years ago, I visited charters designed for disabled and mainstream students in Michigan and California as a freelance writer on Unique Schools for Unique Students, a Center on Reinventing Public Education book on charters for special-needs students.

Not everyone thinks mainstreaming is the best strategy.

“A majority of kids with disabilities are performing very poorly—very, very poorly—where they receive all or most of their instruction in the mainstream classroom,” said Doug Fuchs, a special education professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. “Inclusion must account for whether or not students are profiting educationally from the mainstream setting.”

Many students at Arizona Autism Charter School were doing poorly in mainstream classrooms, says Diaz-Harrison.

Special-ed co-teachers may function as “very expensive finger pointers,” writes Peter DeWitt, who’s taught inclusion classes, in Ed Week. The Goldilocks quandary remains: “How do we find a balance between having higher expectations without making those expectations so high that we continue to make a marginalized population of students feel even more marginalized?”

Special ed kids sort trash, parents complain

Special ed students won’t be assigned to sort trash as part of a “life skills” class at a Southern California high school. Patriot High special-ed students were told to go through campus bins to find recyclables that had been thrown away.

Jurupa Unified Superintendent Elliot Duchon apologized to angry parents for the assignment.

“It is disgusting,” said Carmen Wells, who complained after learning her autistic son was digging through trash on his first day as a high school freshman.

Half of school staff aren’t teachers

Half of school employees aren’t teachers, reports The Hidden Half: School Employees Who Don’t Teach.

The U.S. spends a much larger percentage of education funding on non-teaching staff than other countries, more than double the spending in Korea and Finland.

Teacher aides represent the largest growth category over the last 40 years. “From 1970 to 2010, aides went from nearly non-existent to the largest individual staff position, outside of teachers,” according to the Fordham report.

Teacher aides have little, if any, positive effect on students’ academic achievement,” concludes an analysis of Tennessee’s Project STAR. Decreasing class size to 14 to 17 students in the early grades raised achievement significantly, especially for black students.

School staffing has increased by nearly 400 percent since 1950. Much of the growth occurred from 1970 to 1980. “Passage of several pieces of federal legislation — such as Section 504, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, and Title IX (Equal Opportunity in Education Act) — likely played a big part in changing the makeup of schools.”

Aides often are hired to work with special ed or English Learner students. That is, the adult with the least training works with the kids with the most needs.