Is RTI a billion-$$ boondoggle?

The Concept Of RTI: Billion-Dollar Boondoggle
by Beverley Holden Johns, James M. Kauffman, and Edwin W. Martin.

The writers argue that RTI and iterations known as tiered frameworks for education (e.g., one known as a multi-tiered system of supports, MTSS) are being widely implemented without necessary research confirming their superiority to the framework created in 1975 and known generally as IDEA. Widespread implementation of RTI and similar frameworks without reliable research evidence of their superiority to IDEA could, like many other efforts to improve education without reliable empirical evidence, be a very expensive mistake.

View a copy of The Concept Of RTI: Billion-Dollar Boondoggle in your browser (or, to download and save a copy on your own computer [189 KB], right- or control-click on the link and follow the directions in the dialog box that appears).

Context for decline in special education

Category 2005 2008 2011
LD 4.14 3.77 3.43
ED 0.72 0.62 0.54
ID 0.81 0.71 0.63
Data from IDEAdata.org

Percentages of students 6-21 yrs
identified in categories of LD, ED, or ID
for US schools

Ever wonder why the number of students identified as having learning disabilities (LD), emotional or behavior disorders (ED), or intellectual disabilities (ID) in the US is declining? The numbers are not declining, you say? Hmmmm. Well, as the table here shows, they are, indeed, declining. I drew these data from the child counts mandated under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. I used the data for percentage of students ages 6 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B, as a percentage of population, by disability, and state. (I used 6-21, because those are reported consistently across the years; therefore these percentages are lower than one might expect for school-age students.) As indicated, one can check my work by referring to the data tables for US Office of Special Education Programs’ state-reported data. And, as the data show, it’s not just LD that’s decreasing.

Some of our colleagues will argue that the reason for the decline is improvement in preventative services, especially as represented by response to intervention or instruction methods that have been touted extensively in the time represented in the table here. Continue reading Context for decline in special education

Saying “no” to violence

Almost 20 years ago, on a discussion list that was a precursor to SpedPro, a group of us led by Jim Kauffman developed a statement about preventing violence. It seems like a propitious time to revisit it. Here is the introduction to it.

We are in no danger of becoming a nation of wimps; we are in imminent danger of becoming a nation of thugs. We know the details of violence among children and youth in our society. We recite the litany of this violence with shame, sorrow, disgust, and terror. For decades we have failed to act on what we know about the causes of violence and aggression. We can not afford to delay effective action any longer.

The violence and aggression of the young have no single cause nor a single solution. Decades of research have revealed several contributing causes and partial solutions. If we take any of the following steps, we will become a less violent society. If we argue about which step should be first or complain that taking only one or two is insufficient, we will waste energy and delay progress. If we take all these steps together, we will reap the benefits of concerted, coherent action. None of these steps is easy or quick, nor is any a full remedy; all require intelligence and persistence.

The full statement is available for review.

Easter Seals campaigns for early intervention

Under the headline “Tell President Obama To Help Kids With Disabilities Realize Their Full Potential,” Change.org promoted a petition encouraging support for early intervention for children with disabilities. It’s got to be difficult to sell people on the idea of increasing government expenditures in a time of substantial concern about federal deficits, but the Easter-Seals-sponsored petition is seeking to accomplish just that end. Here’s the pitch.

Continue reading Easter Seals campaigns for early intervention

Maybe special ed isn’t as bad as it’s cracked up to be?

Special education takes a lot of lumps as a dumping ground, a backwater, a path to dashed hopes, and on and on. Thanks to Amy Corbett Storch over on The Stir, it’s clear that special ed isn’t so bad. In “Why We’re Not Afraid of Special Education,” Ms. Storch explains why she wasn’t fazed by allowing her son to be identified as having a disability and receiving special education. Here’s her lead:

When we first told some of our family members that we decided to seek support and services for our child through the school district’s special education program (and later, after he actually qualified for the special education program), they were shocked. Shocked that Noah — sweet, smart, sociable little Noah with all his invisible labels — qualified in the first place, and that we would actually willingly send our child to public school special ed.

Continue reading Maybe special ed isn’t as bad as it’s cracked up to be?

Costs-benefits of special education

Over on Squidalicious, a guest post by Lea Cuniberti-Duran about “Special Needs Children and Public Education” appears under the title “We Are Not Sparta: The Real, Justified Costs of Educating Kids With Special Needs.” Ms. Cuniberti-Duran recounts the argument that schools are hamstrung by the costs of providing special education services.

I have attended many school district budget meetings in which officials blurted to their audience, “We cannot pay for XYZ because of our financial responsibility toward children with special needs: to educate one special needs student can cost the district $100,000 a year.” I also hear about how the district has “an unfunded mandate to educate children with special needs, and how this results into an encroachment to the general fund.”

She then proceeds to provide a clear and powerful dismissal of the canard that special education’s costs harm others. Not only does she show how the costs argument leaks (at least with regard to the local education agencies in her geographic area of the US), but also she explains how beneficial special education has been to society as a whole over the past 35 years. Read it!

Kauffman’s ‘Curtains’ paper

Jim Kauffman drafted an editorial expressing his concern that special education has been so substantially undermined that it is near collapse. Here’s his lead (‘lede?’):

I think we’re approaching the end of special education. By analogy, we’re nearing the final scene of a stage play. Special education is, I think, very near its “curtains.” And we’re perilously close to being unable to rewrite the play while it’s in progress.

You may download a full copy of “Curtains for Special Education: An Open Letter to Educators.

Watch your language!

Over on Teach Effectively, Jim Kauffman posted a note about people saying things that, upon reflection, amount to nonsense.

Today, I read something in The Washington Post that prompted me to write this little essay. In an article about Washington, DC school chancellor Michelle Rhee, writer Bill Turque wrote (let’s consider this Exhibit A), “Rhee wants more teachers who share her central belief about education reform: All children can become high academic achievers, regardless of the disadvantages they face outside the classroom” (p. B1).

Read Jim’s comment.

Insuring service for individuals with disabilities

I got this quite welcome news from a representative to the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities.

House and Senate negotiators have hammered out a compromise on legislation to require private health insurance plans to cover mental health and addictive disorder services under the same terms and conditions as other types of care. Mental health and addictive disorder advocacy organizations—including groups as disparate as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Mental Health America, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Retail Federation, and the Alliance for Children and Families—are pushing for passage of this legislation before Congress adjourns. The parity legislation is based on H.R. 1424 and S. 558, and would go a long way toward reducing the stigma associated with mental health care, and improving access to treatment. Mental illness is the leading cause of primary disability in the U.S.

People who work with individuals with disabilities understand that this is a substantial step forward. It is likely to provide access to services for many families of children with disabilities, services (e.g., intensive behavioral intervention) that are often crucial the children’s success.

As the American Counseling Association (ACA) noted, today is a great day for US residents to call their representatives in the US Congress. Link to the ACA Web site.

Research funds in perspective

The Council for Exceptional Children generated a graphic that allows one to see the relative US federal funding for research in various areas. It’s a pretty clear indication of the importance attached to addressing the improvement of education, no? I’ve linked a larger version of the file to the image at the right. It’s suitable for downloading.

To be sure, there are some funds in the NIH and NSF research budgets that go toward educational research. For example, some of the funds from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development fund research on Autism and Learning Disabilities. I do not know what proportion of those budgets are devoted to such educationally relevant topics, but I bet that it’s a small proportion.

JANE 4 sped?

Given the proliferation of professional journals in special education, it might seem difficult to determine appropriate places to publish one’s work. Of course, we surely don’t have as much difficulty as those in biological sciences, where journals focused on sub-sub-specialities exist. To help folks in those disciplines, perhaps a dose of artificial intelligence would be helpful.

In “Reducing the cost of facilitating peer review,” Peter Suber described and commented on a script that recommends journals that would be suitable outlets for one’s writings. Mr. Suber’s post, which appeared in Nature Network, referred to a Martijn J. Schuemie and Jan A. Kors’ “Jane: Suggesting Journals, Finding Experts” from Bioinformatics. Here’s a snippet from Mr. Steel:

Abstract: With an exponentially growing number of articles being published every year, scientists can use some help in determining which journal is most appropriate for publishing their results, and which other scientists can be called upon to review their work.

Jane (Journal/Author Name Estimator) is a freely available web-based application that, on the basis of a sample text (e.g., the title and abstract of a manuscript), can suggest journals and experts who have published similar articles.

I recall the advice of a writing professor with whom I studied as an undergraduate. He told me I should submit a piece of short fiction to a magazine and then, in preparation for receiving a rejection, address envelopes to other magazine editors where I would hope it would be published and stuff each envelope with a submission letter. I should then stack those envelopes in the order of my estimate of their magazines’ prestige. If it was rejected by one I was simply to put a copy of the ms. in the next envelope in the stack and mail it in the next day’s mail.

I also recall the sage comment of my colleague Mike E., who said something similar. He finished his recommendation with a maxim: “John, for every manuscript, there is a journal.”

More about JANE:
Mr. Schuemie and Mr. Kors’ original. “Jane: Suggesting Journals, Finding Experts
Mr. Suber’s Reducing the cost of facilitating peer review
Savvy comment from Nature blog by Maxine Clarke (here) and an unsigned note here and >.

Presidential candidates’ views

Late last week, Christina A. Samuels, the special ed beat writer for Education Week posted an entry on US political candidates’ views about disabilities and education. Writing under the title “Presidential Candidates and Spec Ed,” Ms. Samuels started her post with these words:

They may have other policy differences, but when it comes to special education, Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and Republican John McCain all want the same thing for states–more money.

My colleague Michele McNeil has already written in her lively blog about Clinton’s pledge to “fully-fund” the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

I hope someone is standing up when there are opportunities and asking candidates questions about how US policy on special education will change in the next few years. One of my big fears is that the next round of IDEA will actually see efforts to disenfranchise some students with disabilities. Can we expect any candidate to understand the intricacies of such policies?

Read the entire post here.

Consortium to Prevent School Violence

Dear Colleagues,

The new Consortium to Prevent School Violence website is up and running at: http://www.preventschoolviolence.org (alternate URL: http://www.ctpsv.org).

Consortium Mission: The Consortium to Prevent School Violence is committed to assisting educators and schools in the reduction of school violence.

Consortium Goals: The Consortium seeks to foster high quality research on school violence prevention; communication among researchers, practitioners and policy makers; dissemination of research-based information regarding effective school violence reduction programs; technical assistance and professional development that aid in implementing effective school violence reduction practices; and advocacy of effective research-based solutions to policy makers.

Consortium History: The Consortium grew out of efforts that followed the tragic Amish school shootings of Fall, 2006. A group of 20 researchers and practitioners in the field of school violence prevention collaborated on the creation of a nationally disseminated position statement on the school shootings. In the process, it became apparent that an alliance of researchers and practitioners in school violence prevention to further the common goal of reducing school violence would be highly valuable.

Current Consortium projects include:

  • Brief and practical fact sheets for use by teachers, school administrators, parents, and others working in schoolrelated settings, offering concise, understandable, and usable research-based recommendations for practice. Topics will include: screening and referring at-risk students for help; bullying prevention; gangs in schools; threat assessment in schools; working with students with a history of academic failure and behavioral problems; school-family partnerships to address behavioral problems; mentoring programs for at-risk youth; and others as needs are identified.
  • Usable research briefs by leading researchers, targeting critical topic areas, such as bullying prevention, zero tolerance, school-accessible evidence-based interventions, youth gun access and guns in schools, and school resource officers. The briefs, which summarize extant knowledge of the topic, will be designed for an end-user audience of school staff, local school and school district administrators, professional training personnel, and policymakers and legislators at the state and federal level.
  • Staff training PowerPoints for school violence prevention which include speaker notes and support resources, for use in schools, local youth service agencies, and other organizations concerned with school violence. The PowerPoints will be designed for use by professional trainers who may have general but not highly specific knowledge of school violence prevention. The PowerPoints will be geared to support training sessions for use in in-service programs, workshops, and other professional training venues.
  • Effective practices video in which national experts share key lessons learned from school violence prevention research and practice. The video, as envisioned, approximately 35-40 minutes in length, will feature approximately 15 national experts, each briefly highlighting important bottom line findings. The video will be developed along critical themes such as school wide programming, early intervention, fostering connectedness, providing mental health and other supports, threat assessment, and crisis management.

All research-based materials posted on the Consortium website are evaluated and approved by the Consortium’s expert review panel of distinguished scholars.

Please share the URL with colleagues. Thank you.

Matthew Mayer
Rutgers University