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.

CEC Asst Exec Director

The Council for Exceptional Children is seeking applications for the position of Assistant Executive Director for Professional Development Services. Here are some particulars about the position. See the link near the end of this post to download a copy of the announcement.

Position Title: Assistant Executive Director for Professional Development Services
Classification: Category 10 (Exempt) Starting Salary Range: $86,340 to $107,924.
Unit: Professional Development Services
Reports to: Executive Director
Selection Procedure: Evaluation of written application materials, relevant education, experience, and references. Personal/panel interview(s) of top-rated candidates.
Application Procedure: Each candidate must submit a current resume and cover letter to: Recruiter, Norma Marshall, preferably via Email to (Voice: 336-547-8315).Mailed resumes should be sent to: Council for Exceptional Children, 1110
North Glebe Road, Suite 300, Arlington, VA 22201-5704 Persons requesting accommodation during the application process should also contact the Recruiter.
Application Deadline: Review of applications begins immediately and continues until the position is filled.

Visit the CEC Web site at

Download a PDF of the announcement of the position.

Posny congratulated on confirmation

The US Senate confirmed Alexa Posny as assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services in the US Department of Education Monday 5 October 2009. US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a press release congratulating Dr. Posny on the confirmation. Here’s a snippet from the press release:

Alexa E. Posny comes to the department from Kansas where she served as commissioner of education for the state. As commissioner, Posny was responsible for helping over 450,000 students meet or exceed high academic standards, licensing over 45,000 teachers and overseeing a state education budget of more than $4.5 billion. Prior to her work as commissioner, Posny served as the director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) for the U.S. Department of Education, a position in which she assisted state and local efforts to effectively educate all children and youth with disabilities. Posny has also served as the Kansas deputy commissioner of education, Kansas state director of special education, director of special education for the Shawnee Mission School District, director of the Curriculum and Instruction Specialty Option as part of the Title I Technical Assistance Center (TAC) network of TACs across the United States, and a senior research associate at Research and Training Associates in Overland Park, Kan. Posny earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, a master’s degree in behavioral disabilities and a doctorate in educational administration both from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Posny has also served on the Board of Directors for the Chief State School Officers, the National Council for Learning Disabilities, and chaired the National Assessment Governing Board’s Special Education Task Force. Posny has also been a teacher at the elementary, middle school, high school and university levels.

Link for the full press release. Catch coverage by Lisa Fine for On Special Education.

Posney to OSERS

The US President Barack Obama announced that he plans to nominate Alexa E. Posny for the position of Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) in the Department of Education. Dr. Posny, who currently serves as commission of education for the state of Kansas, will return to US ED where she previously served as Director in the Office of Special Education Programs.

OSERS claims its mission is to “promote academic excellence, enhance educational opportunities and equity for all of America’s children and families, and to improve the quality of teaching and learning by providing leadership, technical assistance and financial support.” In the role of Assistant Secretary for OSERS, Ms. Posny will oversee policies related to achievement in schools, educational improvement, and financial assistance for local education agencies.

The White House press release provided background information about Commissioner Posny:

Alexa E. Posny currently serves as the Commissioner of Education for the state of Kansas. As Commissioner, she is responsible for helping over 450,000 students meet or exceed high academic standards, licensing over 45,000 teachers, and overseeing a state education budget of a little over $4.5 billion dollars. Prior to this, Posny was appointed as the Director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) for the U.S. Department of Education, a position in which she assisted state and local efforts to effectively educate all children and youth with disabilities. Other positions that Posny has held included the Kansas Deputy Commissioner of Education , Kansas State Director of Special Education, Director of Special Education for the Shawnee Mission School District, Director of the Curriculum and Instruction Specialty Option as part of the Title 1 Technical Assistance Center (TAC) network of TACs across the United States, and a Senior Research Associate at Research and Training Associates in Overland Park, KS. Posny earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, a master’s degree in behavioral disabilities and a doctorate in educational administration both from the University of Wisconsin Madison. Currently she serves on the Board of Directors for the Chief State School Officers, the National Council for Learning Disabilities, and chairs the National Assessment Governing Board’s Special Education Task Force. Most importantly, she has been a teacher at the elementary, middle and high school levels and remains a teacher today, serving as adjunct faculty with the University of Kansas.

Links for:

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]

As SG, will Gupta promote FC?

Among the questions that senators might ask during the hearings on the nomination of Dr. S. Gupta for the office of US Surgeon General, there is this one: “Dr. Gupta, I’d like to ask you about a contentious subject, the practice of facilitated communication, known as “FC,” as a means of helping individuals with disabilities, especially those with Autism, to communicate. During your tenure on influential television news programs carried by CNN, you noted that “literature, studies, and views on FC largely discredit the technique” [link]. However, you then presented summaries of studies, many of them anecdotal, some of which reported supposed successes with facilitated communication [link and link]. Do you anticipate that, if you are confirmed, your office will promote the use of facilitated communication? Moreover, do you anticipate that your office will depend on anecdotes or more rigorous science as a basis of policies?”

Jeff Wagg of the James Randi Educational Foundation: Sanjay Gupta Unfit?;

Jay Green on special ed teachers

Over on his blog, Jay P. Greene has a post entitled “Blaming special ed” that makes a host of important points.

It’s all too common but also completely mistaken to blame special education for the shortcomings of the public k-12 system. If you point out that per pupil spending has more than doubled in the last three decades (adjusting for inflation) while student outcomes have remained unchanged, people blame the rising costs of special education. (See for example Richard Rothstein on this). If you point out that the teaching workforce has increased by about 40% in the last three decades (adjusted for changes in student population), people blame special education (see below). If budgets are tight and programs get cut, people blame special education for draining money from general education.

Read Professor Greene’s Blaming special ed.

Conference on brain development and learning

From an advertisement I received….

The 2nd Biennial, International Conference on:


July 12-15, 2008 Sheraton Wall Center Hotel, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

One of the best conferences I ve been to in 20 years! (Inaugural Meeting Attendee)

Conference website:

This interdisciplinary conference is devoted to enriching and improving the lives of children by making cutting-edge research in neuroscience & child development available, relevant, & understandable to mental health professionals, educators, parents, & others who care about children.

This year ** ADHD** is one of the main topics of the conference.

World-famous researchers who are also outstanding speakers will present, including:

TORKEL KLINGBERG, who pioneered the role of computer games to improve working memory in children with ADHD (CogMed:

ROSEMARY TANNOCK, a pioneer in ADHD research and co- developer of integrated
multimedia resources on ADHD for teachers (

In addition, famous speakers and researchers on Executive Functions and Prefrontal Cortex will be featured, including:


And famous speakers and researchers on RESILIENCE in the face of Depression, Anxiety, Trauma, or Abuse, including:

WILLIAM BEARDSLEE, who will speak about his work with parents and families:
Hope, Meaning and Continuity: Lessons Learned from Developing and Adapting Preventive Interventions for Depression in Families

GIL NOAM, a Prof. in both the Education and Medical Schools of Harvard:
Resilience Development: Where Education and Mental Health Meet

A special feature of this conference:
Besides lectures, you ll have the opportunity to meet, speak informally with, and ask questions of, these world-famous speakers in a small, relaxed setting over a lunch with 2-3 speakers and no more than 30 conference participants.

For years I have seen people try to bring educators together with health specialists, or either with researchers. I have never seen any effort work as well as what you put together in Vancouver.

It was wonderful having different groups of professionals from different backgrounds and training come together in a truly collaborative way sharing research, knowledge, and experiences.

For more information and registration:

Conference website:

Or Call: Toll free in Canada or the US: 1-877-328-7744
From Overseas: 001-604-822-6156


Conference schedule:

More info on Speakers:

A website set up to help conference attendees find someone to share a hotel room with, a homestay, or a ride-share:


The National Council on Disability (NCD) published a document entitled “The No Child Left Behind Act
and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: A Progress Report” that describes changes in student outcomes, professional practices, and policies across the US. Here’s an excerpt from the executive summary that provides an overview of the document.

In 2004, NCD issued a report called No Child Left Behind: Improving Educational Outcomes for Students with Disabilities, which examined the impact of NCLB and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) on improving educational outcomes for students with disabilities. The report drew its conclusions and recommendations from interviews with disability policy, education, and advocacy leaders and identified some changing attitudes and behavioral shifts in K–12 education as a result of the new legislation.

This report provides both a follow-up and a more detailed reporting of the trends and attitudes about NCLB and IDEA over the past several years. In this study we spoke to dozens of researchers, practitioners, and state administrators from across the country about NCLB and IDEA. In addition, we conducted a study of 10 of the largest states in the nation, representing approximately half the U.S. general population.

This report is divided into four sections. Part I provides a brief overview of trend data regarding students with disabilities. Part II describes conversations with state administrators and representatives about trends and issues related to NCLB and IDEA. Part III describes similar conversations with advocates, federal officials, and other stakeholders. Part IV provides recommendations based on our findings.

Continue reading NCD on NCLB and IDEA

Dismay over Syracuse Appointment of Dean


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.

Admin note: To indicate your support for this statement, please leave a comment (prior registration required; once registerd, click link labeled “comment” and scroll to the bottom of the statement). In your comment, please give your full name and affiliation.