Is ‘$Billion-dollar-boondoggle’ alternative fact?

In Alternative Facts Are Alive in Education As Well: A Response to Johns, Kauffman, and Martin, a group of psychologists, special educators, school administrators, and others interested in educational policy respond to the monograph by Johns, Kauffman, and Martin (2016) published on SpedPro. The signatories to the response, who are listed in the appended table, raise and respond to a series of three questions. Here are those questions, drawn from the document:

  1. Is their [Johns et al.] distain for RTI an implicit endorsement of the use of ability achievement discrepancy models or its more complicated and even less reliable counterpart, patterns of cognitive strengths and weaknesses, as their preferred method of SLD identification?
  2. Do the authors believe that general education is committed to, and successfully implementing research- based intervention(s), that promote early intervention, prevent disabilities, and reduce the need for special education for some students?
  3. Do the authors believe that as currently implemented, that beyond procedural compliance, special education provides the powerful intervention(s) that students with disabilities need to be successful in school and the workplace?

View a copy of Alternative Facts Are Alive in Education As Well: A Response to Johns, Kauffman, and Martin in your browser; to download a copy, control- or right-click on the link and follow the directions in the dialog box that appears.

Mark R. Shinn, Ph.D. Jack M. Fletcher, Ph.D. Jim Ysseldyke, Ph.D.
Robert Pasternack, Ph.D. Stevan Kukic, Ph.D. W. Alan Coulter, Ph.D.
Chris McHugh Susan M. Koceski, Ph.D. Ed P. O’Connor, Ph.D.
Chris Birr, Ed.S. Rebecca C. Davis, M.Ed. Erica Lembke, Ph.D.
Ed Steinberg, Ph.D. John L. Hosp, Ph.D. Kim Gibbons, Ph.D.
Daniel J. Reschly, Ph.D. Corey D. Pierce, Ph.D. David Tilly. Ph.D.
Jeremy W. Ford, Ph.D. Randy Allison Beth Harn
Judy Elliott, Ph.D. George M. Batsche, Ed.D. Leanne S. Hawken, Ph.D.
Joseph F. Kovaleski, D.Ed. James A. Tucker, Ph.D. Lisa H. Stewart, Ph.D.

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).

Investigation: Texas systematically denied students sped services

Brian M. Rosenthal of the Houston Chronicle published a report entitled “Denied: How Texas keeps tens of thousands of children out of special education” that documents systematic denial of special education services to approximately 250,000 students in Texas. Over the course of more than 10 years, Mr. Rosenthal reported, the Texas Education Agency routinely scored local school agencies (“LEAs”) on their compliance with state guidelines, one of which addressed the percentage of students identified for special education.

LEAs could earn a perfect score on that part of their report card only if they identified 8.5% or fewer of their students as needing special education. In 2015 the state was identifying 8.5%, a substantial drop from the nearly 12% it was identifying in 2004.

In detailed analyses, Mr. Rosenthal and his colleagues presented compelling graphics showing these changes. He also provided documents as well as the usual journalist cases to illustrate the strains on individuals and families.

Some Texas educators argued that the decreases are a consequence of improved instructional practices (e.g., adoption of response to instruction), but that position does not hold water. Were it true, the effects would be largely specific to learning disabilities, but Mr. Rosenthal noted, the decline is evident in multiple categories of special education in Texas. In addition, as an expert on response to instruction, Douglas Fuchs of Vanderbilt University, told Mr. Rosenthal, were those reforms to be working, then reading achievement would have risen in Texas; it has not.

IDEA Celebration

IDEA 40th Anniversary Banner

ED Celebrates IDEA 40th—Live!

Dear Colleagues,

On behalf of the U.S. Department of Education and its Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), we are pleased to invite you to view two special events celebrating the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

When IDEA was enacted in 1975, America pledged to provide and ensure that children with disabilities have opportunities to develop their talents and contribute to their communities. That pledge endures today and IDEA continues to provide not only access to the school house, to assessment and to the general curriculum, but the full promise of inclusion, equity and opportunity.

The White House
November 17, 2015
9:30–11:00 a.m., EST

Please share in this exciting White House event where Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Delegated Deputy Secretary John King, OSERS Assistant Secretary Michael Yudin, and OSERS’ Office of Special Education Programs Director Melody Musgrove join the stage with youth impacted by IDEA, experts who will speak about the history and progress of IDEA, and families and teachers from the field who will provide their unique perspectives and celebrate this landmark legislation.

Please watch the White House event broadcast live:

U.S. Department of Education
November 17, 2015
3:00–4:30 p.m., EST

The IDEA 40th Anniversary celebrations continue in the afternoon at the Department•s Barnard Auditorium with an IDEA Symposium where a panel of distinguished researchers share the state of evidence in special education and look towards the future for promoting even greater educational achievement by students with disabilities. Tune in live to the IDEA Symposium to view an inspiring slate of panelists including: Sharon Vaughn, Lynn Fuchs, Rob Horner, Lise Fox, Michael Wehmeyer, Lisa Dieker and David Test.

Please watch the IDEA Symposium broadcast live via EDstream:

These two events will celebrate our past successes, but primarily focus on the future to ensure that infants, toddlers and youths with disabilities will continue to receive a free and appropriate public education that prepares them for their future. We encourage you to participate in the celebration by hosting opportunities for groups to watch the presentations and have discussions. Consider, holding your own local panel of youth, parents, teachers and other IDEA stakeholders; hosting a watch party in concert with a university class; or encouraging your school faculty to watch and engage in conversations about the history, impact and future of this legislation.

Submit Your Story

As part of our celebration of 40 years of the IDEA, we also want to hear from individuals with disabilities—especially children and youth with disabilities—parents, teachers, researchers and all other IDEA stakeholders about the personal impact this law has had on them.

  • How has IDEA made a difference to you?
  • What does inclusion, equity, and opportunity now look like for you?

Submit your art, photographs and stories by November 10, 2015 to our IDEA 40th Anniversary Web site [] for possible use for upcoming events in Washington, D.C., celebrating the 40th Anniversary of IDEA.

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How do students fare after HS?

The transition from high school to work, post-secondary education, and other alternatives is a challenge, especially for students with disabilities. In “Diplomas Count 2015: Report and Graduation Rates—Next Steps: Life After Special Education“, Education Week writers present their 10th analysis of how high-school graduates make that transition. Here’s how Christina Samuels, one of the contributors, described the work:

Each year, hundreds of thousands of students in special education graduate from their high schools.

And then what happens?

In the 10th annual edition of its Diplomas Count report, Education Week tries to answer that question.

The report is a blend of journalism and reseach: the Education Week Research Center delved into federal data to offer an important snapshot of where students with disabilities end up after they leave high school. My journalist colleagues and I give life to those numbers by talking to students as they make important future decisions about college and about work.

For example: Do students with disabilities tell their colleges about their special needs, or do they try to go without any of the supports they may have used in high school? (The answer: most of them do not disclose.) For students who are headed directly to the workplace, have they been taught how to advocate for themselves? (The answer: it’s hit-or-miss.)

Recommended reading.

Suspension data by U.S. state

Over on On Special Education, Christina Samuels reported that a group that is part of the Civil Rights Project of the University of California, Los Angeles, has indicated that 37% of secondary students with disabilities in Florida had been suspended from school, the highest rate in the US and more than double the average for the country.

Eighteen percent of secondary students with a disability served an out-of-school suspension in 2011-12, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Education, but behind that number are enormous variations in suspension rates at the district and state level.

A civil rights advocacy group’s analysis of the data released Monday shows that Florida, at 37 percent, leads all other states in suspending students with disabilities at the secondary level. Florida also led the nation that year in suspensions overall, both at the elementary and secondary level, at 5 percent and 19 percent, respectively, said the Center for Civil Rights Remedies.

Read Ms. Samuels’s full post at “States’ Suspension Rates Vary Widely for Students With Disabilities, Group Says.”

Pew Report Documents Sequestration’s Impact on Special Education

A report from the daily news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts indicates that sequestration is having substantial negative financial effects on special education. Under the headline “Sequester Hits Special Education Like a ‘Ton of Bricks,'” Adrienne Lu reported that “a new round of special education cuts were taking hold, prompted by a 5 percent reduction in federal funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).” According to a Michigan educator, Marcie Lipsitt, who was one of Ms. Lu’s sources, “It hit like a ton of bricks. Conditions are eroding and children are not being allowed to become taxpayers. They’re not being given access to independence, being productive, being ready for a global workforce.”
Continue reading Pew Report Documents Sequestration’s Impact on Special Education

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

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

Speece to leave NCSER, join VCU

Deborah Speece, Commissioner of the the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), will resign effective 1 July 2013 and become associate dean for research of the School of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond (VA, US). Speece told Spedpro that the decision was official as of Friday (5 April).

IES Commissioner John Q. Easton appointed Speece as commissioner of NCSER in August of 2011. During her tenure, she has overseen the research agenda for special education in the US, stabilizing what had been a drifting program and implementing valuable new initiatives despite serious fiscal challenges.

Speece’s move to VCU will strengthen both the overall research program in the school of education and the special education program itself. She not only—obviously—knows how research grants work, but she has a substantial reputation for conducting and reporting research as well as other aspects of the scholarly process (e.g., editing journal articles).

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.

Sad story that echoes fears of malfeasance

In “Ex-principal: ‘Never really told the truth’ to special ed parents—
Ex-principal: I lied to parents of special-needs kids,” Shannon Mullen of the Ashbury Park (NJ, US) Press recounts a story about Sheldon Boxer, a former school administrator who says that, as a means to save funds, he misrepresented the needs of students with disabilities and the capacity of schools to serve them. Mr. Boxer accuses an attorney working with the local education agency of leading the effort without every actually issuing an edict that the purpose was to hold down costs.

Ms. Mullen captures some he-said, he-said in her story as well as some human interest (a case of a child with substantial special education needs whose parents contend say he was not provided appropriate services). You can read Ms. Mullen’s report of this sad special education story in its original form (or snag this single-page version).

US report on testing accommodations

In November the US Government Accounting Office (GAO) released a report entitled “Improved Federal Enforcement Needed to Better Protect Students’ Rights to Testing Accommodations” of a study it performed at the behest of representatives to the US Congress. Based on interviews with individuals with disabilities, educators, advocates, commercial testing companies, and others, the report provides brief insight into testing accommodations at the secondary and post-secondary level and recommendations for government action based on its findings. Interested readers may download a one-page summary of the report from the GAO office.

Deborah Speece Appointed Commissioner of National Center for Special Education Research

D. Speece 2004

Deborah L. Speece was named as the Commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) on 23 August 2011. NCSER is the leading branch of the US government’s effort to study educational innovation in special education and, as its head, Commissioner Speece will oversee a program that funds scores of research efforts including projects, evaluations, and multi-site centers throughout the US. She is the second commissioner of NCSER, and her appointment was greeted with substantial approval by the special education research community.

IES Director John Q. Easton announced the appointment of Deborah Speece as Commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) effective August 23, 2011. Known for her innovative studies of the classification and diagnosis of learning disabilities, Speece is a national leader in special education research and response to intervention strategies.
Continue reading Deborah Speece Appointed Commissioner of National Center for Special Education Research

Full US IDEA funding proposed again

Over on On Special Education Nirvi Shah reported that Senator Tom Harkin and colleagues once again introduced a bill proposing that the US federal government pay its full (i.e., 40%) share of the costs of special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Read her post, “Bill Would Boost Federal Spending on Students with Disabilities.”