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!

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.

Sources

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?;

Watch your language!

Over on Teach Effectively, Jim Kauffman posted a note about people saying things that, upon reflection, amount to nonsense.

Today, I read something in The Washington Post that prompted me to write this little essay. In an article about Washington, DC school chancellor Michelle Rhee, writer Bill Turque wrote (let’s consider this Exhibit A), “Rhee wants more teachers who share her central belief about education reform: All children can become high academic achievers, regardless of the disadvantages they face outside the classroom” (p. B1).

Read Jim’s comment.

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.