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

Is special education a taxing entitlement?

In a 20 December editorial entitled “The Special Education Bridge to Nowhere” published by Vermont Tiger, Curtis Hier published the accompanying editorial.

The recent study by the Joint Fiscal Office on our tax burden in Vermont reminds me of another JFO study done a few years ago. In 2001, the JFO was put in charge of studying special education costs. It enlisted a working group that included special educators, professional disability advocates, and the “Big Three” of the education lobby — including, of course, Joel Cook of the Vermont-NEA.

Given the makeup of the working group, it should not be a surprise that the study identified growing costs that were beyond anybody’s control, and it recommended that the problem be studied further. Herein lies the problem of special education cost containment. Those who potentially have the answers to the problem of spending are the stakeholders who benefit from the spending.

At Vermont Tiger (www.vermonttiger.com), we have some great ideas for identifying and tackling the real cost drivers of education spending in Vermont. And we have some great resources at our disposal. We are a nonprofit organization that promotes sound and sustainable economic growth in Vermont.

We’ve started to post regular investigative reports on our site that expose certain practices of the education community, and we are watching particularly for examples of ineffective spending. In special education, while there are dedicated professionals and certainly pockets of success throughout Vermont, there are plenty of examples to be found of inefficient spending and poor results. And looking at the results statewide, it appears that we’re building a virtual bridge to nowhere.

Special education spun out of control in the 1990s. Special education professional staff increased by 42 percent, while paraprofessional staff increased by an amazing 139 percent. Overall special education expenditures rose at a rate of 150 percent. We went from spending $51 million to spending $128 million on these programs.

Since Act 117 was passed in 2000, special education programs have slowed their growth rate a bit. They had to. They couldn’t possibly maintain the pace of the 1990s. Still, the growth is formidable. Now we spend well over $200 million on these programs. And yet, despite the spending levels, we are seeing abysmally low and essentially flat achievement scores among special needs students.

Part of the problem has been that the cost drivers have been overstated and taken advantage of by the special education community. For instance, there is a perception that litigation is common and that parents always win. But in the last three years, 13 due process cases were disposed of by hearing officers. Six decisions clearly found for the school district. Five found for the parents. And two included partial findings. Three of the 13 cases ended up in court. That’s not bad for 350 local education agencies over a three-year period.

Another cost driver, seemingly beyond our control, would be the increasing number of low incidence disabilities, such as autism, that are being diagnosed in recent years. These disabilities are cost-intensive. But not every school sees a net increase in these cases every year. Some occasionally see a net decrease. However, schools do not tend to take advantage of the savings opportunities that occur when that happens. While there are certainly fixed costs involved in serving children with severe disabilities, there are some variable costs as well. Contrary to popular belief, special education enrollment has not been trending upward, especially as general student enrollments are going down. Schools that see lower special education enrollments should realize some savings. No rational business would ever lower production and want to keep paying the same amount of money on variable costs.

Clearly there are opportunities for savings in staffing levels. Professor Michael Giangreco has been doing some great work on special education staffing patterns at the University of Vermont. Although he insists that his ideas are “cost-neutral” proposals, his findings could potentially offer ways to reduce significantly our cost burdens. Our current staffing patterns are arguably failing to meet the “least restrictive environment” test of special education law. We can do a better job meeting that test while actually reducing staffing costs. Vermont Tiger will be shedding more light on this subject, as we attempt to build a less expensive bridge to somewhere.

Recently our organization hosted a symposium that explored the question of whether Vermont is to become an entrepreneurial state or a land of entitlements. Special education is an entitlement that is adding to public sector job growth in Vermont. The overall trend of public sector jobs replacing private sector jobs is a disturbing phenomenon in Vermont. It needs to be addressed. And we at Vermont Tiger have been and will continue to be addressing it.

If I understand Mr. Hier, he’s suggesting that all the “cost drivers” that we often hear cited by special education fiscal critics—e.g., increasing identifications, court cases, etc.—are not what keeps special education costs “out of control” in Vermont. He seems to suggest instead that its staffing costs that are not adjusted downwards when special education enrollment drops and, also, that better (more?) implementation of the LRE criterion would bring costs down.

Is that it? Not much of an argument. How do you even know costs are high if you don’t have the slightest idea what something—in this case, special education—costs. I don’t think the State of Vermont—or any other state for that matter—has any idea what general education costs. This statement by Mr. Hier

And yet, despite the spending levels, we are seeing abysmally low and essentially flat achievement scores among special needs students.

is so naive or disingenuous, it’s hard to know where to begin responding. What kind of gains does Mr. Hier think Vermont is paying for… exactly? The fact is that he doesn’t know and neither does Vermont. If he wants to say that he and Vermont are spending more than they’d like, more than the perceived value of special education, why doesn’t he just say so?

In theory (and in policy), the cost of special education is intended to be variable because it’s based on the aggregate value of all individual educational plans which, in principle, are individually calculated.

Not knowing exactly how much it costs to get to any yearly acheivement target, a rational system would invest steadily in professional development since the aggregate costs of special education cannot trend downwards if capacity stays constant. So one could just as reasonably argue that Vermont hasn’t spent enough on professional development. But, then, we still wouldn’t have any way of knowing if the current expenditures map well against the actual need or not since no one attempts to measure what it really would cost to reach actual IEP goals.

I do not know about Vermont’s special education service structure, but I’m willing to bet that the 139% increase in paraprofessional costs has paralleled increased inclusion (what Mr. Hier seems to be arguing will reduce costs).

The fact is that states have not figured out how you can effectively divide a single special education teacher by the number of classrooms where students with disabilities are placed. Therefore, paraprofessional costs—typically undertrained paraprofessionals—as a percentage of special education has gone up (everywhere).

If I’m right, some of the maintenance, if not increase, in costs might be associated with inclusion as it is practiced in Vermont. This would be a disappointment for policymakers who supported an expansion of inclusion in 1990, thinking that it would bring special education costs down.

We could, of course, withdraw paraprofessionals and expect regular classroom teachers to carry the full responsibility, but alas that would take some significant and ongoing investment in professional development, effectively moving the cost from paraprofessional support to professional development. And, it isn’t clear to me that classroom teachers would readily accept that full responsibility.

That one should expect special education to be expensive is not news at this point. What would be news would be if anyone, anywhere had the least idea what it should cost to assure meaningful learning outcomes for students with IEPs.

But, for that matter, no one knows what it really costs, say, to teach non-disabled children to read. Fact is, we have no idea what outcomes-based education really costs.

I don’t think that States really want to know because it’s likely to be many times what we spend now.

Instead, as seen in NCLB, the policy strategy is to set outcome expectations with relatively fixed revenue (with some guessed at supplement from federal contributions). If you can’t adjust revenues to match needs, then the only movable part left is teaching effectiveness and effort which, as I noted above, come at a cost, too.

It is on this same issue, by the way, that RTI will fail. As a rational strategy for allocating scarce instructional resources, RTI is sensible. Devote these resources to students who really need more intensive and extensive instruction based on progress monitoring. However, the entire strategy falls apart if the primary level of instruction—what the classroom teacher provides—is not, at least, very good. If it isn’t, then scarce resources will be allocated to compensate for not-so-good teaching rather than innate limitations of students.

The only way out of this is, again, significant investment in professional development, the same place we end up in pursuing special education’s real costs. It shouldn’t surprise us. Special education, all along, has been a system for responding to the perceived unresponsiveness of students under conditions of typical instrution (beginning way back when Elizabeth Farrell taught at P. S. 1 in NYC). Although the technical skills of teachers in 1901 may have been somewhat limited, the principle remains unchanged that there will always be relatively “unresponsive” learners if baseline instruction occurs in large groups of students who are variable in their ability to respond to whatever the prevailing method or technology of instruction might be.

So, I fear that Mr. Hier’s and Vermont’s problem of special education costs is technically unsolvable in the foreseeable future

It is, of course, politically solvable.

Mr. Hier or others could convince voters to spend less to get more. In the world of politics we spend according to what we collectively—by vote—value, even when the benefits derived from that spending are muddy (as in proscecuting wars, for example).

Any proposal to cut spending will be met with sizable resistance from parents, special educators, and other advocates. Of course, these folks (us) do not have any better idea what the real spending number ought to be. We merely suspect (rightly, I believe) that it should be higher, certainly not lower. But, if Mr. Hier or others have or gain more votes, they win. In one sense, a reauthorized NCLB that reduces the requirement for making progress for students with disabilities, accomplishes something of the same end. That is, if schools do not have to demonstrate progress by students with disabilities, such a policy invites schools to make less, not more, effort for these students regardless of their inclusion status.

Laws change; reality doesn’t. It won’t change a thing in the schools, of course. School folks will still be pinned between the requirements of effort mandated in IDEA (unless IT is changed as well) and whatever cost-cutting policies are adopted in Vermont or elsewhere. And children with disabilities will still be at very high risk for learning failure.

If you don’t live in Vermont, don’t worry. There’s some version of “Vermont” everywhere these days. There can be no rest for advocates.

Michael Gerber
Professor
University of California Santa Barbara

To read Mr. Hier’s complete editorial in its original form, follow this link.

NAEP and accommodations

Are accommodations for students with disabilities compromising the integrity of scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress? According to a story by Elizabeth Green in the New York (NY, US) Sun, educators are considering that question closely. Ms. Green reported that, “Responding to mounting concerns about the validity of a test considered the gold standard for measuring American students, federal officials are pushing for a change in how the test is administered.”
Continue reading NAEP and accommodations

Vouchers and special education

A news story from the Salt Lake (UT, US)Tribune that ran prior to the defeat of the Utah initiative to implement a system of vouchers for K-12 education mentioned concern about private schools refusing to accept students with disabilities.

One thing Utah vouchers foes fear is that private schools will refuse to take expensive special education students, leaving them in public schools with less money to educate them.

This got me thinking (often a dangerous process): What do we really know about implementation of voucher systems? Do schools operating under voucher policies dis- or mis-serve students with disabilities? I searched quickly and found an article by Susan Etscheidt, but little more (abstract appended).

Do any ‘pros know of unpublished studies about this matter?

Etscheidt, S. (2005). Vouchers and students with disabilities: A multidimensional analysis. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 16, 156-168.

School choice initiatives such as open enrollment, magnet schools, charter schools, and voucher plans have been offered as methods of school reform. A publicly funded voucher plan in Florida targeting students with disabilities was considered as a possible model for the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Although the model was not adopted in the reauthorized law, the potential impact of such voucher plans must be examined. The empirical evidence regarding the impact of vouchers on parent choice, student achievement, and fiscal school management is inconclusive and incomplete. Further, the impact of voucher plans on educational programs for students with disabilities has not been thoroughly studied. Such an examination requires a multiparadigmatic analysis of legal, economic, academic, sociological, and political dimensions.

Link to the Tribune article.

Closing centers

The Maryland (MD, US) state department of education is moving to close special education facilities, requiring students to attend neighborhood schools instead, according to a story entitled “Special-ed backers scramble to save learning centers” by Marcus Moore. In his article, published in Gazette Net, Mr. Moore reported that Maryland Superintendent Jerry D. Weast has accelerated the time line for closing the special education centers.
Continue reading Closing centers

Special education professors political views

According to a poll, people in the USA are concerned about the political opinions of professors.

Zogby Poll: Most Think Political Bias Among College Professors a Serious Problem: Four in 10 said the problem is “very serious;” Tenure seen as harmful to teaching quality

As legislation is introduced in more than a dozen states across the country to counter political pressure and proselytizing on students in college classrooms, a majority of Americans believe the political bias of college professors is a serious problem, a new Zogby Interactive poll shows.

Nearly six in 10 – 58% – said they see it as a serious problem, with 39% saying it was a “very serious” problem.

The online survey of 9,464 adult respondents nationwide was conducted July 5-9, 2007, and carries a margin of error of +/- 1.0 percentage points.

Predictably, whether political bias is a problem depends greatly on the philosophy of the respondents. While 91% of very conservative adults said the bias is a “serious problem,” just 3% of liberals agreed. Conservatives have long held that college campuses are a haven for liberal professors.

Hmmmm…I wonder to what extent that’s true. Admitting that this will not be a scientifically conducted survey, let’s just run a little poll. We’ll have to trust that those who vote here are members of college or university faculties and that they vote honestly (i.e., only once).

Professors, please rate your political view (this is anonymous) on this scale:
[poll=2]

Link for the full story about the Zogby Poll.

Light commentary

A friend of mine decided to enter a “public radio talent quest” by doing a piece on NCLB. It’s too late to enter the voting (and I found out too late as well), but you may get a kick out of his entry. This guy is not an educator, just a dad who works for the federal government in Montgomery County, MD. The audio clip is just two minutes long, so it won’t take long to listen to it, unless you’re like me and then start listening to other entries in the bunch.

So, go to: http://www.publicradioquest.com/node/1309

Popped myth

The US National Center on Educational Statistics, a part of the Institute for Education Sciences, issued a report about special education. In the report, billed as an “issue brief” and published in March of 2007, Emily W. Holt, Daniel J. McGrath, and William L. Herring describe the results of a study based on the cohort of children who started kindergarten in 1998 and followed in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Studies (ECLS-K). It’s worth reading, in part because it pops a common myth about special education.
Continue reading Popped myth

Gap

gap in title of article on effects of gaps on readers' readingI thought this was pretty interesting combination of words and spaces. The image (click it for a larger version) shows part of an e-mail message that I received. It was pretty intriguing to compare the title of the article to the way that the title was displayed.

Teeheee.

WVU faculty search

WVU Open Faculty Search – Applicants Sought for SPED Position
The Department of Special Education at West Virginia University has a search still open for the following position:

Level: Assistant Professor

Specialization: Multicategorical Mild Disabilities
(emphasis on academic assessment and intervention)

Review Date: APRIL 25

We are accepting additional applications in our effort to find the right candidate to join our young and dynamic faculty and help us expand this NCATE accredited and CEC recognized program over the next several years. WVU is a Doctoral Research-Extensive institution with an enrollment of over 25,000 students and a 2010 strategic plan that emphasizes several exciting research initiatives. In addition to its strong doctoral program in special education that prepares teacher educators school administrators, the College of Human Resources is now adding a Ph.D. option which will focus on the preparation of educational researchers. It is truly an exciting time to be at WVU.

This nine-month, tenure-track position at the Assistant Professor level will involve teaching courses in the 5 year teacher education program, the graduate certification and degree program, and ultimately in the doctoral program, using both face-to-face and online instruction. The position also requires advising students, collaborating with other faculty on program development, conducting research and securing external funding, and service to public schools and community agencies as well as to the university and the profession. The ideal candidate is someone who has knowledge and skill in assisting students with mild disabilities in accessing the general education curriculum and teaching and assessing learning in reading, math or other academic content areas, and implementing inclusive schooling practices.

Individuals who will have an earned doctorate in special education by August 2007 and at least 2 years of experience working as a special educator with students with disabilities may apply for this position. They should send a electronic copy of an application letter and their vita to me at Barbara.Ludlow @ mail.wvu.edu [remove spaces from address] and fax three (3) letters of support to me at 304-293-6834 OR contact me via email or phone at 304-293-3835 to obtain more information.

Several of our faculty will be at the CEC meeting in Louisville if anyone would like to discuss this position or the WVU program with us prior to the application submission deadline.

Dominguez Hills Early Childhood

Become one of the premier special education teacher educators at CSUDH working collaboratively to improve teaching and learning in urban public schools.

Special Education
Early Childhood Special Education or Moderate Severe Disabilities
Assistant Professor

The faculty of the College of Education at California State University, Dominguez Hills invites applications from individuals for this tenure track position. The successful applicant will teach classes and provide supervision in the early childhood special education and/or moderate-severe special education programs. The college offers a Master of Arts degree in Special Education and Education Specialist credentials in teaching mild-moderate, moderate-severe, and early childhood special education. The special education programs prepare teachers for inclusive, ethnically and culturally diverse urban schools. The College of Education is accredited by NCATE and the educational programs are accredited by the California Committee on Teacher Credentialing.
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Dominguez Hills Liberal Studies Chair

Join a dynamic faculty working collaboratively with urban public schools to prepare effective educators for California’s diverse student population.

Liberal Studies Department Chair
Associate/Full Professor

The faculty of the College of Education at California State University, Dominguez Hills invites applications from individuals for this tenure track position. The newly established department offers an undergraduate, interdisciplinary degree that provides more than 1300 students with a state-approved academic preparation program for elementary and special education teaching credentials. The department also offers an integrated degree and teaching credential program through which students may complete much of their multiple subject (elementary) teaching credential as part of their B.A. degree in Liberal Studies. The educational programs in the College of Education are accredited by NCATE and the California Committee on Accreditation.
Continue reading Dominguez Hills Liberal Studies Chair