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).

Frances Partridge Connor

Frances Partridge Connor, an influential figure across many aspects of special education, passed away 28 March 2015 in Boca Raton, FL. She was the Richard March Hoe Professor Emeritus of Education at Teachers College of Columbia University in New York (NY, US).

For many decades, Professor Connor affected the practice and policy of special education. She not only chaired the special education program at Teachers College, but also served as president of the International Council for Exceptional Children (CEC). In addition, she advised local, state, federal, and international government agencies about educational policies related to children and youths with disabilties. She was also a member of multiple research teams focused on improving the tools of teachers and methods for advancing outcomes for children with disabilties.
Continue reading Frances Partridge Connor

Easter Seals campaigns for early intervention

Under the headline “Tell President Obama To Help Kids With Disabilities Realize Their Full Potential,” 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.

Do Chicago schools hide special ed students?

One of the on-going concerns about high-stakes testing and special education is whether scores of students with disabilities should be included in a school’s or local education agency’s average on tests. If they do, won’t they drag the average to lower levels? If they don’t isn’t that counter to the advocacy position of some organizations (e.g., National Center on Learning Disabilities)?

The issue’s complicated by the change in the US government. People are looking carefully at the records of the newly appointed officials in the US Obama Administration. And, low and behold, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s record is under the magnifying glass. As Christina Samuels reports in “Chicago Schools Come Under Fire for Special Education Progams,” the actions of schools that were under Mr. Duncan’s oversight are in the crosshairs.

Because U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was the superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, I keep an eye out for special education news originating from the city. This article, in the Chi-Town Daily News, is about an accusation from a principal that students with special learning needs are barred from evaluations because it’s too expensive to educate them.

A Chicago Public Schools principal yesterday accused district officials of routinely denying disabled students access to specialized help, and at times even barring them from evaluation for learning disabilities.

As is common with Ms. Samuels’ report, this is a valuable recitation of the situation. I recommend it to folks who are concerned about high-stakes testing and special education. Link to the article.

NCD meeting 20 July 2009

National Council on Disability (NCD) has invited people to attend a meeting and contribute to a discussion of policies, practices, and etc. that affect individuals with disabilities. Although this meeting is not precisely centered on special education, I’ve posted it here for the benefit of those of us who work with families, on transition issues, or are concerned with other aspects of special education where larger issues of public policy intersect with special ed.

June 17, 2009
Dear Friends and Colleagues:

On behalf of the National Council on Disability (NCD), it is my pleasure to invite you to attend NCD’s next quarterly meeting, which will take place at the Minneapolis Marriott City Center, 30 South 7th Street, Minneapolis, MN, beginning at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, July 20, 2009, and ending at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, July 22, 2009. This meeting is open to the public.

NCD is an independent federal agency, composed of 15 members appointed by the President, by and with the consent of the U.S. Senate. NCD’s purpose is to promote policies, programs, practices, and procedures that guarantee equal opportunity for all individuals with disabilities, and that empower individuals with disabilities to achieve economic self-sufficiency, independent living, and inclusion and integration into all aspects of society. To carry out this mandate we gather public and stakeholder input, including that received at our public meetings held around the country; review and evaluate federal programs and legislation; and provide the President, Congress, and federal agencies with advice and recommendations.
Continue reading NCD meeting 20 July 2009

Does retention protect kids from special ed?

Michael Silverstein and colleagues reported interesting data about whether children who are retained during the early grades later require special education. Exploring the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K, ), they found that many children who were retained continued to experience academic difficulties, but never received an IEP.

Receipt of Special Education Services Following Elementary School Grade Retention
Michael Silverstein, MD, MPH; Nicole Guppy, MD; Robin Young, MA; Marilyn Augustyn, MD
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2009;163(6):547-553.

Objective To estimate the proportion of children who receive an Individualized Education Program (IEP) following grade retention in elementary school.

Design Longitudinal cohort study.

Participants Children retained in kindergarten or first (K/1) grade and third grade, presumably for academic reasons, were followed up through fifth grade.

Main Outcome Measure Presence or absence of an IEP.

Results A total of 300 children retained in K/1 and 80 retained in third grade were included in the study. Of the K/1 retainees, 68.9% never received an IEP during the subsequent 4 to 5 years; of the third-grade retainees, 72.3% never received an IEP. Kindergarten/first-grade retainees in the highest quintile for socioeconomic status and those with suburban residence were less likely to receive an IEP than retained children in all other socioeconomic status quintiles (adjusted odds ratio, 0.17; 95% confidence interval, 0.05-0.62) and in rural communities (0.16; 0.06-0.44). Among K/1 retainees with persistently low academic achievement in math and reading, as assessed by standardized testing, 38.2% and 29.7%, respectively, never received an IEP.

Conclusions Most children retained in K/1 or third grade for academic reasons, including many of those who demonstrated sustained academic difficulties, never received an IEP during elementary school. Further studies are important to elucidate whether retained elementary schoolchildren are being denied their rights to special education services. In the meantime, early-grade retention may provide an opportunity for pediatricians to help families advocate for appropriate special education evaluations for children experiencing school difficulties.

Should retention be a flag for special education evaluation? Some folks argue that it should. For example, using data from a study by Margaret Beebe-Frankenburger and colleagues (2004), Ryan Kinlaw answers, “Yes”:

Most students at risk of retention can be identified on the basis of ability measures and teacher perceptions at least by second grade. Possible strategies for minimizing the likelihood of retention include… focused and individualized assessment of their special education needs.” (Kinlaw, 2005, p. 5)

How does all this fit into the response-to-instruction efforts that are popping up in so many schools around the US? If we had a database of the progress-monitoring data that we could connect to data about teacher ratings, retention in grade, evaluation for special education, and so forth, what would we be able to learn? Would we learn that when a child has been retained, then he’s protected from being referred for special education? If so, is that a good outcome?

My hunch is that we’d find some students (~5-10%; not counting those who have physical disabilities) who started at the low end of the distribution on measures of literacy and had progress rates that were lower than most of their peers. They would very likely be among students who received tier-2 services. And they would be significantly more likely to be retained, evaluated for special education, etc.


Beebe-Frankenberger, M., Bocian, K. M., MacMillan, D. L., & Gresham, F. M. (2004). Sorting second-grade students: Differentiating those retained from those promoted. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96, 204-215.

Kinlaw, C. R. (2005, Fall). Sorting out student retention: 2.4 million children left behind? Durham, NC: Center for Child and Family Policy and Sanford Institute of Public Policy Policy Briefs. [link]