RF inquiry

On 22 September 2006 the U.S. Department of Education (ED) published a document entitled “The Reading First Program’s Grant Application Process: Final Inspection Report” (3.3 Mb PDF) in which the Office of the Inspector General reports the results of an audit of certain aspects of the Reading First program. Reading First is a central piece of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. According to the report, the OIG audit of the grant award process indicates that

  1. FINDING 1A— The Department Did Not Select the Expert Review Panel in Compliance With the Requirements of NCLB.
  2. FINDING 1B— While Not Required to Screen for Conflicts of Interest, the Screening Process the Department Created Was Not Effective
  3. FINDING 2A— The Department Did Not Follow Its Own Guidance For the Peer Review Process
  4. FINDING 2B— The Department Awarded Grants to States Without Documentation That the Subpanels Approved All Criteria
  5. FINDING 3— The Department Included Requirements in the Criteria Used by the Expert Review Panels That Were Not Specifically Addressed in NCLB
  6. FINDING 4— In Implementing the Reading First Program, Department Officials Obscured the Statutory Requirements of the ESEA; Acted in Contravention of the GAO Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government; and Took Actions That Call Into Question Whether They Violated the Prohibitions Included in the DEOA

My observations (numbered to correspond with the OIG findings):

  1. FINDING 1A— Having been chair of one of the subpanels, I was a bit surprised by the concern about the review panels; it’s a pretty august group (a list of the panelists follows). One OIG concern is that the subpanels, each composed of five members, did not include someone nominated by each of the legally stipulated entities (the Secretary of Education, the National Institute for Literacy, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences; and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development). As the report notes, ED created a 12-member panel that did fit the criteria; as I recall, this was composed of the subpanel chairs.
  2. FINDING 1B— The conflict reported is that OIG’s review of 25 panel members’ vitae reveals that 6 panel members had “significant professional connections” (undefined) to Direct Instruction. I don’t know whether my vita was reviewed (it’s available here for those who want to examine it). Fortunately, about 72 of 72 panelist appear to have had significant connections to evidence-based practice. I do not recall reviewing any application that expressly recommended what I suspect the OIG report identified as a DI program.
  3. TFINDING 2A— he critique of the process is that ED Reading First employees sent summaries of the panel reviews to the applicants rather than sending them the longer report of the panel chair. As a panel chair, I know my co-panelists and I labored over our individual reports and that I put a lot of work into summarizing everyone’s concerns when I prepared our summaries of our meetings. I’m sorry the applicants didn’t get to see them.
  4. FINDING 2B— Here the problem OIG reports is that some applications were funded even though the subpanel reviewing them had not determined that the proposal met standards on all the criteria. As I recall, this could not have been the case for any of the proposals reviewed by our subpanel, as we reviewed them all until all criteria met standards.
  5. FINDING 3— [Begin correction based on comment] The finding refers to the fact that some of the language used to describe the minimal standards to which panels held applications went beyond the criteria specified in the law. I do not remember whether any of the proposals our panel reviewed would have been funded after fewer reviews had the standards reflected the law rather than the revisions included in the review criteria.
  6. FINDING 4 [End correction]— This is a multi-part finding. (a) OIG’s concern here is that the development of documents providing guidance to applicants and reviewers were more stringent than the actual law; as I recall, reviewers’ packets include both the criteria and the law itself. (b) Reading First folks acted to publish a report for which NIFL had contracted. It’s the same report that, earlier in the OIG’s report, the Inspector General identified as a product a representative of Nevada applicant said would have been helpful in developing Nevada’s application. (c) Reading First folks indirectly encouraged consultants to one of the applicants to include Reading Mastery on it’s list of approved core reading programs. (d) The Reading First administrators recommended to another ED employee that the employee discourage local education agencies from using reading materials that would not pass muster as scientifically based and discouraged others themselves. Apparently this was not an appropriate exercise of oversight or monitoring of state and local education agencies’ compliance with the Reading First process.

For those who are interested in the composition of the panel, a list of the members’ names and affiliations follows.

  • Maria Elena Arguelles, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor, University of Miami
  • Janet Sloand-Armstrong, Ed.D. Managing Director, Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network
  • Rebecca Barr, Ph.D., Professor of Education, National Louis University
  • Donald Bear, Ph.D., Professor of Curriculum & Instruction, College of Education; Director, E.L. Cord Foundation Center for Learning and Literacy, University of Nevada-Reno
  • Marsha Berger, Former Deputy Director of the Educational Issues Department at the American Federation of Teachers
  • Muriel Berkeley, President, Baltimore Curriculum Project
  • Frances Bessellieu, M.Ed., Director of Reading and Reading Excellence Act Coordinator, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS)
  • Pauline Bigby-Jenkins, Ph.D., Title I and ESL coordinator for Ann Arbor Public Schools, Michigan Reading Association Board of Directors
  • Carmel Borders, M.A., President, Tapestry Foundation; Presidential Nominee, National Institute for Literacy,
  • Susan Brady, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, University of Rhode Island
  • Kathleen Brown, Ph.D., Director and Clinical Assistant Professor at the Reading Center in the Graduate School of Education, University of Utah
  • Joanne Carlisle, Ph.D., Professor, Educational Studies, Research Scientist, Communicative Disorders Clinic, University of Michigan
  • Margaret Carnes, R.N., Managing Director, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Education Foundation
  • Mary Cirillo, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of OPCENTER, L.L.C, Hudson Ventures
  • Carl Cole, Ph.D., Director of Special Services, Bethel School District
  • Anne Cunningham, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Graduate School of Education and Director, Joint Doctoral Program in Special Education, University of California-Berkeley
  • Shirley Dickson, Director, Statewide Curriculum Initiatives and Director of Reading, Texas Education Agency
  • Jan Dole, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Teaching and Learning, University of Utah
  • Rebecca Felton, Ph.D., Educational Consultant
  • Jack Fletcher, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Pediatrics and Associate Director of the Center for Academic and Reading Skills at the University of Texas, Houston Health Science Center
  • Barbara Foorman, Ph.D., Professor and Director of the Center for Academic and Reading Skills
  • Anne Fowler, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Haskins Laboratories
  • Catherine Froggatt, R.N., Michigan State Director, The National Right to Read Foundation
  • Alice Furry, Ph.D., Chief Administrative Officer; Project Director, UCLA Extension/Los Angeles Unified School District, Governor’s Reading Initiative PreK-6, California Professional Development Reading Institutes
  • Norma Garza, Director, United Way of Southern Cameron County “Success by Six” Initiative; Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans Commission
  • Russell Gersten, Ph.D., Professor, College of Education and Director, Eugene Research Institute, University of Oregon
  • Diane Haager, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Special Education, California State University, Los Angeles
  • Susan Hall, M.B.A., Consultant, International Dyslexia Association; Member, State of Illinois Reading Committees
  • Karen Harris, Ed.D., Professor, Department of Special Education, University of Maryland
  • Marlene Henriques, Ed.D., Teacher in Residence in Assessment Development, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
  • Janie Hodge, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Special Education, Clemson University
  • Estella Holliday, Director, South Carolina Reading Initiative and Assistant Director, Office of Early Childhood Education, South Carolina Department of Education
  • Stephen Hooper, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Departments. of Psychiatry and Psychology, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
  • Mark Hopper, Ph.D., Vice President, Accountability Initiatives; Partner and Vice-President, Henderson, Hjermstad, Hopper, L.L.C
  • Kathy Howe, Academic Collaborative Planner, St. Croix River Education District (Minnesota)
  • Dawn Hubbard-Miller, Ph.D., Educational Trainer and Consultant, Northeast Kansas Education Service Center
  • Joseph Jenkins, Ph.D., Professor, Special Education, College of Education, University of Washington
  • Linda Jenkins, Assistant Superintendent for K-12 Curriculum Development and Implementation, Bremerton School District (Washington)
  • Ellin Keene, M.A., Director of Literacy and Professional Development, University of Pennsylvania
  • Martin Kozloff, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Specialty Studies, University of North Carolina-Wilmington
  • Sharon Kurns, Supervisor Instructional Services, Special Education Division, Heartland Area Educational Agency (Iowa)
  • Zoee Larose, M.A., Reading Connections Specialist, Alabama State Department of Education
  • John Lloyd, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education and Chief Technology Officer at the Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
  • Marie Mancuso, Director, Arizona Reading Initiative, Arizona Department of Education; Co-chair, Arizona Reading Initiative Leadership Advisory Board
  • Robert Marino, Baltimore City Public Schools
  • Patricia Mathes, Ph.D., Associate Professor at the Medical School, Principal Investigator, Center for Academic and Reading Skills, University of Texas-Houston
  • Michael McKenna, Ph.D., Professor of Education and Coordinator of Graduate Reading Programs, Georgia Southern University
  • Leslie McPeak, M.Ed., Director of Literacy and School Support, Stanislaus County Office of Education, Modesto, California
  • Katherine Mitchell, Ph.D., Director, Alabama Reading Initiative, Alabama Department of Education
  • Darryl Morris, Ph.D., Professor of Language and Reading and Reading Clinic Director, Appalachian State University
  • Kelly Mueller, M.Ed., Teacher, Jackson Park Elementary School, St. Louis, Missouri
  • Laura Murphy, Teacher and Consultant
  • Caroline Novak, Co-founder and President, A+ Education Foundation
  • Jean Osborn, M.Ed., Consultant, Center for the Study of Reading, University of Illinois (retired)
  • Stan Paine, Ph.D., Elementary School Principal, Springfield School District (Oregon)
  • Charles Perfetti, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Linguistics and Director of the Laboratory for Reading and Language, University of Pittsburgh
  • Kristen Powell, Ed.D., Administrator for School and Community Services, Orange County Department of Education, California
  • Craig Ramey, Ph.D., Professor and Co-director, School of Nursing and Health Studies, Georgetown University
  • Sally Shaywitz, M.D., Professor of Pediatrics and Director of Yale Center for Learning and Attention, Yale University
  • Mary Siano, M.A., Certified ETS Trainer and Associate Developer, Educational Testing Service
  • Tim Slocum, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department. of Special Education, Utah State University
  • Susan Smartt, Ph.D., Reading Specialist and Consultant, Smartt Johnson and Associates
  • Janet Spector, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, College of Education and Human Development, University of Maine-Orono
  • Pam Stecker, Ph.D., Associate Professor, School of Education and Acting Director of the Learning with Disabilities Program, Clemson University
  • John Stevens, Texas Business and Education Coalition
  • Joseph Torgesen, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychology, Florida State University
  • Lucia Townsend, Human Resource Development Specialist, Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resource System
  • Fran Warkomski, Director, Bureau of Special Education, Pennsylvania Department of Education
  • Ann Watanabe, M.S., State Reading Resource Teacher, Pihana na Mamo Project, Maui District Office, Hawaii Department of Education
  • Joanna Williams, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University
  • Rhonda Wolter, Title I Reading Specialist and Reading Coordinator, Bethel School District (Eugene, Oregon)
  • Elaine Zimmerman, Executive Director, Connecticut Commission on Children

Here are links to the news coverage. (Note that the International Reading Association promptly issued a press release about the story).

  • http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/22/AR2006092201356.html
  • http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/23/education/23education.html
  • http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-0609230036sep23,1,1850833.story?coll=chi-news-hed
  • http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/politics/la-na-reading23sep23,1,6490702.story
  • http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=domesticNews&storyID=2006-09-23T015719Z_01_N22257320_RTRUKOC_0_US-BUSH-EDUCATION.xml

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Lawyered up

Eric Louie of the Contra Costa Times (CA, US) reported that Guy Houston, are representative in the a California Assembly, convened a meeting of parents to hear about their complaints about the Contra Costa local education agency’s (LEA) operation of special education programs. Parents complained that their children are “Not getting the special-ed services to which they’re legally entitled, getting unqualified instructors and getting schoolwork that was too far below their learning level.” Parents pointed at six- to seven-fold increase in the LEA’s expenditure of legal fees as an index of the problems. Mr. Houston is reported to have said, “Everyone’s lawyered up.”

Administrators at the LEA dispute the claims. Read Mr. Louie’s story here.

Jay Matthews factor

A column by Jay Matthews, who is an education reporter for the Washington Post, has drawn attention, at least in part because it challenges the newly popular and (borrowing terminology from a colleague or Mr. Matthews, here) conventional wisdom that boys are in crisis.

Mr. Matthews went beyond the overblown reporting on this topic and dug into an extensive analysis by Sara Mead of Education Sector. Education Sector is an non-profit, non-partisan think tank examining issues in education, about which I shall write more in another post. For now, I address some of the content Mr. Matthews draws from Ms. Mead’s report called “The Truth About Boys and Girls.”

Although Mr. Matthews’ column and the report on which he bases it contain many other concerns, one part of the report that Mr. Matthews quotes refers to the preponderance of boys with “” (LD, a term which Mr. Matthews—he is not alone in this error—mistakenly equates with general special educational needs). In his quote, he omits a phrase from the original that I have indicated with underlining:

In addition to disadvantaged and minority boys, there are also reasons to be concerned about the substantial percentage of boys who have been diagnosed with disabilities. Boys make up two-thirds of students in special education—including 80 percent of those diagnosed with emotional disturbances or autism—and boys are two and a half times as likely as girls to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The number of boys diagnosed with disabilities or ADHD has exploded in the past 30 years, presenting a challenge for schools and causing concern for parents. But the reasons for this growth are complicated, a mix of educational, social, and biological factors. Evidence suggests that school and family factors—such as poor reading instruction, increased awareness of and testing for disabilities, or over-diagnosis—may play a role in the increased rates of boys diagnosed with learning disabilities or emotional disturbance. But boys also have a higher incidence of organic disabilities, such as autism and orthopedic impairments, for which scientists don’t currently have a completely satisfactory explanation. Further, while girls are less likely than boys to be diagnosed with most disabilities, the number of girls with disabilities has also grown rapidly in recent decades, meaning that this is not just a boy issue.

Although Mr. Matthews makes no more of the disability issue in his column, he recounts the overarching argument of the report, which is that the “boy crises” is overblown. It may be. That there are more boys in special education than one would expect based on population statistics is hard to dispute. And, as Mr. Matthews notes, the report cites alternative reasons for the discrepancy. What Mr. Matthews’ column omits is a later section in which the report calls for further funding of research about gender differences among students with disabilities. Here is that later call for support of studies of disabilities:

Finally, policymakers should support and fund more research about differences in boys’ and girls’ achievement, brain development, and the culture of schools to help teachers and parents better understand why boys’ achievement is not rising as fast as that of girls. Such research should include studies that use proper methodological and analytic tools to look into the cause of gender achievement gaps, as well as experimental evaluations of different approaches that seek to close them. To support research, policymakers should make sure that data systems are collecting quality information about boys’ and girls’ school experiences and academic achievement and men’s and women’s educational attainment and workforce outcomes. In addition, policymakers should fund research on some of the specific problems—learning disabilities, autism, and disciplinary or emotional problems—that disproportionately affect boys. [Emphasis added by JohnL]

This is a critical concern for special education professionals. I hope that Mr. Matthews’ discussion of this report will draw attention to the argument favoring funding of research. To be sure, we need to obtain full-funding (even if that only means 40% of the excess costs of providing special education services, a level that the US Congress has not seen fit to provide in the 30 years since it pledged to provide such funding). We also need focused funding for research about the features of disability that might be amenable to change.

Given adequate special educational services, many students with disabilities (including those with Learning Disabilities, Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, Mental Retardation, and even Austism) can, acquire skills and knowledge that will permit them to be contributing members of our society. To the extent that they acquire those skills and therefore contribute to the fabric of society and the tax roles, their competence is a double win for us. The more individuals with disabilities can contribute to society in their adult years, the fewer dollars they will require from society for support during those same years.

As a society, we need an investement in these individuals. It’s not just the humane thing to do, it’s the smart thing.

Author
John Wills Lloyd, Ph.D.
University of Virginia

Call Time Out on FC

We the undersigned register our dismay about Time magazine’s support of Facilitated Communication in the 10 May 2006 article entitled “‘Helping’ Autistic People to Speak” and 15 May issue entitled “Inside the Autistic Mind” by Claudia Wallis. Time might as well have endorsed cold fusion or phlogiston as give Facilitated Communication a favorable review.

Facilitated Communication has been repeatedly debunked with well-controlled experiments. In these studies individuals with autism and their non-disabled facilitators are each shown a different picture. When people with autism are asked to write the name of the pictures they see, they more frequently name the one shown to the facilitator than the one they see—that is, it is the facilitator who is communicating, not the individuals with autism. This and related studies have been repeated many times, with consistent results (see reviews listed at the end of this note).

In contrast, almost all of the studies claiming positive effects of Facilitated Communincation have relied on anecdotal evidence and have been conducted by promoters of the technique. Despite the devastating evidence against it, desperate parents and some well-intentioned professionals continue to endorse the practice. This is tragic because there are scientifically validated ways to teach individuals with autism to communicate independently. Employing unvalidated procedures in hopes of miraculous results simply delays the employment of methods that are known to produce beneficial, if not miraculous outcomes.

We are glad that Time provided coverage to the substantial problems of individuals with autism and their families. Autism is a topic worthy of greater public understanding. We believe, however, that Time did the public a disservice by giving sympathetic coverage to Facilitated Communication.

We understand the power of anecdotes and their utility in journalism, but in our view journalists have a duty to use anecdotes carefully. Ms. Wallis and Time acted irresponsibly by simply remarking that Facilitated Communication is “controversial” and disregarding the research about it. We urge Time to revisit the topic of Facilitated Communication, employing a scientifically grounded reporter who will investigate the facts thoroughly and compare Facilitated Communication to its scientifically validated alternatives. Then Time will be able to publish a report that serves the public.

Admin note: To indicate your support for this statement or to see a list of co-signers, please click comments at the top of the entry (prior registration required; once registered, click the link labeled “comment” and scroll to the bottom of the statement). In addition to your comment, please give your full name and affiliation.

Authors

George H. S. Singer, Ph.D.
University of California,
Santa Barbara
Lewis Polsgrove, Ph.D.
Indiana University
John Wills Lloyd, Ph.D.
University of Virginia

Sources

Cummins, R. A., & Prior, M. P. (1992). Autism and assisted communication: A response to Biklen. Harvard Educational Review, 62, 228-241.

Green, G. (1992, October). Facilitated communication: Scientific and ethical issues. Paper presented at the E. K. Shriver Center University affiliated Program Service-Related Research Colloquium Series, Waltham, MA.

Green, G. (1994). The quality of the evidence. In H. C. Shane, (Ed.) Facilitated communication: The clinical and social phenomenon (pp. 15-226). San Diego, CA: Singular Publishing.

Hudson, A. (1995). Disability and facilitated communication: A critique. In T. H. Ollendick & R. J. Prinz (Eds.), Advances in clinical psychology, (Vol. 17; pp. 59-83). New York: Plenum Press.

Jacobson, J. W., Mulick, J. A., & Schwartz, A. A. (1995). A history of facilitated communication: Science, pseudoscienscience, and and antiscience. American Psychologist, 50, 750-765.

Mostert, M. (2001). Faciliitated communication since 1995: A review of published studies. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 31, 287-313.

Simpson, R. L., & Myles, B. S. (1995). Facilitated communication and children with disabilities: An enigma in search of a perspectivetive. Focus on Exceptional Children, 27, 1-16.

Exclusion forewarning

Somebody should have some ‘splainin’ to do here.

Scores of the new, small high schools are shutting out special education students – a controversial practice federal authorities are now examining.

The boutique schools, highly touted by Mayor Bloomberg, are not required to enroll special education students during the school’s first two years. And few are equipped for teens with wheelchairs, severely limiting the students’ enrollment choices.

Ashley Anderson, an eighth-grader with cerebral palsy, said she was stunned when she flipped through the city’s high school directory last fall and discovered that page after page blared “no accessibility” for wheelchairs.

“It was like waking up on Christmas morning and there weren’t any toys,” the 14-year-old said.

According to this story entitled “Special Ed pupils in limbo” by Kathleen Lucadamo of the New York (NY, US) Daily News, students with disabilities are being excluded from special small high schools in the city. Putatively, the exclusion rule allows these not-so-special schools to ramp up to providing services; basically, it’s to save money.

Also, consider this behavior by these schools the next time you hear someone advocate for charter schools. As Liz Ditz has noted repeatedly, there’s a lot of problems with charters (see this list of her posts).

Link to Ms. Lucadamo’s story.

Williams’ editorial

As carried in “Education Gadfly” over on the Fordham Foundation’s site, Jim Williams has an editorial entitled “Why can’t learning disabled students read?” In his view, the answer to his question is that they are crippled by education and, more specifically, by special education.

But too often, special education inflicts harm by keeping children from reaching their potential. Instead of giving these students an extra hand, the special education bureaucracy unnecessarily segregates them while passing them from one grade level to the next, irrespective of how well they’ve mastered material. The result is a system that creates in these students a crippling sense of helplessness and entitlement. This is certainly the case for the least well-defined subgroup of special ed students, learning disabled (LD).

Mr. Williams challenges the idea that LD is a disability, rejects the concept of “basic psychological processes,” dismisses discrepancy methods of identifying LD, and contends that inadequate instruction is the root cause of reading disabilities. Although there are germs of truth in many of Mr. Williams’ indictments, there are problems with it, too.

Aside from some ticky-tack quibbles (e.g., omission of math LD), notable among the problems with Mr. Williams’ analysis is that he has aimed quite high, attributing to the entire field the inadequacies that many who are affiliated with special education seek to correct. It has been people with a background in LD—many with funding from federal research projects focused on LD—who have closely examined the issues of discrepancy, effective instruction, and etc. and identified these problems.

In addition, Mr. Williams has overlooked some important evidence, evidence that contributed to the changes in educational policy for assessment of children with disabilities announced a little over a year ago by the U.S. Department of Education (see coverage in Teach Effectively). Important work by J. Torgesen and colleagues and R. O’Connor and colleagues (to name just two groups) has shown that even under optimal conditions, a small percentage of children still fail to learn to read. Those are some of the students about whom LD and special education is concerned.

I’m not sure what Mr. Williams recommends as the means for addressing the legitimate education needs of those students, but I’m sticking with special education for them. I wonder to what extent other readers consider his arguments accurate or inaccurate.

Link to Mr. Williams’ editorial.

IDEA birthday

On 29 November 2005 we marked the 30th anniversary of IDEA. Most of us are probably too young to recall life before IDEA (or perhaps too old to remember). With all its flaws and problems, perhaps we should take a moment and in our own way remind out colleagues, students, and others of what it means to have a law that guarantees an education to all children, no matter what their disability. I like to note that we had compulsory education laws in this country in the 1850s but it took another 100+ years to include children with disabilities.

While we special educators continue to fight among ourselves as well as with those in power, it’s also not a bad time to thank those that made it all possible. I’ll start with Fred Weintraub and Ed Martin. Thanks, guys.

Who else deserves a good hug?

Dismay over Syracuse Appointment of Dean

STATEMENT OF DISAPPROVAL
OF THE RESEARCH AND TEACHER EDUCATION COMMUNITIES
IN SPECIAL EDUCATION
OF THE APPOINTMENT OF DOUGLAS BIKLEN AS
DEAN OF EDUCATION AT SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY

29 October 2005

We, the undersigned, are fully aware that Syracuse University and its School of Education do not depend on our approval for making administrative decisions. However, we also recognize the responsibilities of academic institutions in making leadership appointments in their departments, colleges, and schools of education. Now, as never before, research and training in education are being scrutinized and typically found culpable for the poor learning outcomes of many students. Selection of a dean, therefore, constitutes an important and very public signal of how seriously a university views its responsibilities towards public education. By selecting someone whose record constitutes an argument against rigorous science in research involving individuals with disabilities, Syracuse University has sent a public message of disregard for education that undermines not only its own standing among academic institutions but also, by negative example, threatens the credibility of all educators engaged in rigorous research addressing critical problems in teaching and learning.

In our opinion, it is essential that both individuals and institutions adhere to the highest standards of scientific rigor in their professional conduct. We therefore express our strong disapproval of the appointment of Douglas Biklen as Dean of Education at Syracuse University for reasons that we explain.

Since the early 1990s, Professor Biklen has persistently and, in our view inadvisably, promoted training in and the use of facilitated communication (FC), an ostensible means of communication that has been resoundingly and thoroughly discredited by many scientific studies. The American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Association on Mental Retardation, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Association for Behavior Analysis, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the New York State Department of Health have all gone on record advising against the use of FC. Furthermore, the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health has expressed its criticism of Professor Biklen’s appointment, with which we concur.

As researchers and members of the teacher education communities in special education, we are deeply concerned by the harm to individuals with disabilities, their families, therapists, and teachers resulting from the use of FC. The harm to which we refer includes the false hopes, false accusations of abuse, wasted learning opportunities, and miseducation of teachers fostered by FC and training in its use.

Many controlled investigations by scientists who study communication, education, and mental health have led to a consensus that FC is, if not a hoax, an unreliable and discredited means of communication. We find it disturbing that Professor Biklen has ignored this evidence and continued to insist that the scientific studies revealing the illegitimacy of FC are themselves unreliable. Professor Biklen may have good intentions, but his unrelenting advocacy of FC in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence that it typically results in counterfeit messages (produced unwittingly by the “facilitator”) does not serve the cause of science or of social justice or of individuals with disabilities. We wish to disassociate ourselves from the fraudulent claims of FC and the non-scientific methods used by Professor Biklen and his colleagues in their attempts to validate the technique.

Our statement is not based on ad hominem toward Professor Biklen. In our opinion, the decision of Syracuse University to appoint Professor Biklen as Dean of its School of Education brings discredit to the university precisely and solely because it reflects disrespect for educational and psychological research as well as teacher preparation, given Professor Biklen’s disregard for scientific evidence. Certainly, Professor Biklen is free to believe and teach whatever he wants. However, we believe that university administrators have a larger commitment to select as leaders of academic units, including education, those individuals who demonstrate a clear commitment to the principles of scientific research.

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