Articles in the Special Education category

Analysis: NBC learned its lesson with this Education Nation

Glenn Cook, American School Board Journal’s editor-in-chief, attended NBC’s Education Nation summit in New York for the second straight year. Here are his observations.

You can’t blame traditional public school advocates if they were filled with dread when NBC announced that Education Nation would return this fall. Last year the network bought into the hype surrounding the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” inexplicably tying the event to a flawed film that exhorted charters as the pancea for public education’s ills.

Thankfully, NBC has learned its lesson. This year’s event took pains to correct past wrongs as it recognized the complexities school leaders face in managing a public system that is open to all.

Starting with a screening of “American Teacher,” a documentary that helped erase some of the “bad teachers” taste left by “Superman,” and ending with an appearance by former President Bill Clinton, Education Nation featured a strong balance of heavy hitters from education, philanthropy, and politics.

You also had a touch of celebrity — basketball player Lebron James, actress Jennifer Garner, and what amounted to a family reunion with former Gov. Jeb Bush and First Lady Laura Bush participating in sessions — but in this case, it fit the overall tone.

The key word here is balance. Last year’s programming was flawed because it exhorted simple antidotes to complex problems. This year, silver bullets were nowhere to be found, but calls for more effective teaching and improvements to early education were.

You can watch many of the sessions online at www.educationnation.com, but here is my list of highlights:

• Start with “Brain Power: Why Early Learning Matters,” a fascinating hour-long session featuring Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s chief medical editor, and three university professors. Held on Monday morning, it was the best, most concise presentation I’ve seen yet on why we need to reach children much, much earlier than we do.

• The dramatic rise in poverty rates was a focus throughout, especially in the session “What’s in a Zip Code?” moderated by Brian Williams. Poverty is reality for many people in today’s economy — Clinton was eloquent on this topic in the closing session — and communities must come together to do more.

• Education Secretary Arne Duncan was everywhere this year, participating in interviews with Tom Brokaw and responding to questions during various panels (a nice touch).

• We saw an entertaining back and forth between Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone and Diane Ravitch, author and professor of education at New York University. Their approaches are so different, but both made excellent points. Canada and Sal Khan, another Education Nation speaker, are scheduled to keynote NSBA’s 2012 Annual Conference.

• Teacher and student accountability, as you might expect, was a recurring theme. Michelle Shearer, the current National Teacher of the Year from Maryland’s Urbana High School, said teachers “want to be evaluated on things that really matter.”

“There are all sorts of different ways of looking at student growth,” she said. “Whatever evaluation looks like in the end, it has to be a system of multiple measures, because often what’s most important are those intangibles … that are tough to put on a check list.”

• At the same session, Khaatim El, a former member of the Atlanta school board, addressed the cheating scandal that has plagued the district he served for almost a decade. “We wanted to be the hype,” he said of the allegations, which are based on the state assessments. “We wanted to be the first to get it right so bad.”

But El noted the district also made huge gains in NAEP scores during that time, an achievement untouched but overshadowed by the scandal. “I would be remiss if I didn’t point to the hard work that many educators put in,” he said. “We focused on the basics. Literacy instruction in elementary school. Autonomy for principals. We invested in professional development. Those things were overshadowed by the cheating scandal. And they were good things for kids.”

The setting for Education Nation was not perfect — the big tent in Rockefeller Plaza is a good idea in theory, but the humidity and poor audio were ever-present distractions. And while this year’s session was far more substantive, future years should stop belaboring the problems and focus instead on how to solve them. Panels featuring districts that have been successful at “what works,” with ideas and content that are easily imitated and replicated, would be a valuable start.

Chances are good that will happen. The National School Boards Association (NSBA) had a strong presence in the planning and execution of the meeting. Anne L. Bryant, our executive director, met with NBC officials about the content and answered audience questions in a video Q&A format prior to the event. Mary Broderick, NSBA’s president, was featured in a panel session with the mayors of Albuquerque, Baltimore, and Newark.

“What we’ve heard from the last two days of this conference is that we need to come together around a sense of urgency,” Broderick said during her session, noting that it takes a shared vision between the school board, the mayor’s office, and the community. “The vision needs to be of excellence. If that cohesive message can be carried through our schools … there’s nothing off the table.”

The week in blogs

This week, education researcher Richard Rothstein takes Bill Gates to task for claiming in a recent Washington Post column on teacher development that student achievement has remained “virtually flat” in recent decades while per-student costs have “more than doubled.”

 Looking at NAEP tests since 1980 and 1990, Rothstein concludes that “American students have improved substantially, in some cases phenomenally.” As far as a doubling of K12 funding is concerned, yes that’s true, he adds, but the statistic begs to be qualified.

“The biggest single recipient of new money has been special education for children with disabilities,” Rothstein writes. “Four decades ago, special education consumed less than 4 percent of all K12 spending. It now consumes 21 percent.”

What can high schools do to help community colleges and their astronomical drop-out rates? Blogger Dana Goldstein offers a thoughtful analysis.

 “Why are people dropping out of community colleges en masse?” Goldstein asks. “In part, it’s the frustration of being academically under-prepared and thus being forced to pay tuition for credit-less remediation classes. But national surveys of community college drop-outs find that the most cited reasons for leaving school are work and family responsibilities.”

(Thanks to Joanne Jacobs for leading us to Goldstein’s commentary.)

Recent stories in the Washington Post have questioned zero tolerance policies in the Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools. Read a sobering post by the Post’s Valerie Strauss on common myths about zero tolerance’s effectiveness.

 Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|March 11th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Budgeting, Curriculum, Discipline, Dropout Prevention, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, Special Education, Student Achievement, Teachers, Urban Schools, Week in Blogs|

NSBA asks court to support IDEA hearing process

NSBA has filed an amicus brief asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to ensure that parents of students with disabilities should try to resolve disputes about educational issues through a hearing process established by the  main federal special education law before filing a lawsuit.

The case, Payne v. Peninsula School District, involves a student with autism whose individualized education program, or IEP, included the use of a “safe room” to address some of his behavioral difficulties. The child’s mother accused a teacher at his school of mistreating her son by improperly utilizing this behavioral intervention method. Rather than first using the hearing process outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to resolve her dispute, the mother filed a federal lawsuit claiming the teacher’s use of the “safe room” caused her son psychological damage and violated his rights under the IDEA and the U.S. Constitution.

A lower court ruled, and a three-judge panel agreed, that the mother did not have the right to bring her claim to court because she had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies under IDEA. The 9th Circuit is scheduled to review the case in December.

“Since IDEA’s passage, some parents have preferred to prematurely litigate cases involving students with disabilities instead of first following the IDEA requirements before going to court,” said NSBA’s General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr. “School districts nationally have an interest in seeing that educational matters are resolved as early and as quickly as possible. This avoids costly and prolonged litigation that drains resources away from the classroom and unnecessarily delays delivery of appropriate services to students with disabilities.”

The use of seclusion to discipline or calm students with disabilities has been a point of controversy in the education community in recent years, and Rep. George Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, has pushed for a new law requiring states to strictly monitor and limit the use of seclusion and restraints for students with disabilities. Although that issue has been a factor in the case, NSBA’s brief notes that, first, the mother agreed to the safe room provision in the IEP, and second, she did not follow the IDEA’s intent to avoid lengthy and costly lawsuits stemming from disagreements on a behavioral intervention plan.

Joetta Sack-Min|October 15th, 2010|Categories: School Board News, School Law, Special Education|

The week in blogs

stockvault_4799_20070301Fall is coming: A new season awaits. The players are bigger, stronger, tougher than ever.  It all leads, inevitably, to a critically important question: To get an edge on the competition, should you consider redshirting ……your kindergartner?

I confess to being behind the times. Because while I was aware of parents keeping their just-kindergarten-age children at home for another year of maturing, I didn’t know there was a name for it – same as the name for a standard practice at Ohio State and the University of Georgia. But there is, and you can see it right here on that encyclopedia of record for the Internet age, Wikipedia.

I mention redshirting – kindergarten redshirting – because there was a lively discussion of it on the web after USA Today reported on new research showing that children who are the youngest in their class are 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than the oldest. In other words, it appears that mere immaturity is being misdiagnosed as a learning disability.

A lively debate about whether parents should “redshirt” boys is summarized on Joanne Jacobs’ blog, Linking and Thinking on Education.

Want more debates? How about one on whether President Obama has, in the words of Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, “taken the worst aspects of Bush’s No Child Left Behind law – an obsession with testing – and amplified it.” That drew immediate fire from his colleague Jay Mathews, and by John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress.

Nothing like a few good Internet debates to liven up the Dog Days of Summer.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|August 20th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Educational Research, Governance, Policy Formation, Special Education, Student Achievement|

Teacher of the Year shares his streetwise view

In his 20 years as a New York City cop, some of it serving within the gang unit, Anthony Mullen crossed the paths of area youth many times. And what he saw worried him so much he decided to pursue a second career as a teacher so that he could be at the front end of these tragic cases and hopefully change the outcomes.

But as a husband and father of three, going to school and working full-time took its toll, and after a year of doing both, he was on the verge of quitting the masters program.

“I was physically and mentally exhausted and I told my wife I can’t do this and she said, ‘Don’t make any hasty decisions, why don’t you sleep on it,’” Mullen said. “And I’m glad she did because later that night [the police station] got a call.” 

A 15-year-old girl was perched at the top of a fire escape, screaming down to a gathering crowd. Mullen raced to the scene, climbed the stairs, and squeezed through the window to join the girl on the deck.

“I remember telling this young lady she was beautiful, and she had a whole life ahead of her, and I was just about to tell her something else when she jumped,” Mullen said, who dove to catch the girl. With quick work from Mullen and  his partner, she was safely rescued–though, in truth, she rescued him, too.

“I saw her later on the street, and she was with a group of her friends, listening to music, and I realized we had each given each other something special that night … she’d given me the energy to finish my degree because I knew that’s what teaching was all about,” said Mullen, who has taught special needs students for the past nine years and was named the 2009 National Teacher of the Year.

He shared his street-level perspective and success in working with young people in crisis with a packed crowd Sunday afternoon.

For the past seven years, Mullen has worked at an alternative school in Greenwich, Conn., a school where the kids arrive angry, bitter and intent on dropping out. In fact, according to statistics, a student leaves school every 26 seconds and by the end of his session, more than 150 students will have dropped out, Mullen said.

Reversing this trend requires a paradigm shift from teachers and administrators, he said. One of the most important changes is realizing that unless the social and emotional needs of children are addressed, academic achievement will be impeded, because they are all intertwined.

“When I first started at my school, I saw nothing but chaos and behavioral problems and yet I saw teachers just handing out worksheets and I remember one teacher telling me ‘This is what [the students] want,’” Mullen said. “So I said, ‘Do you have any other tips?’ and she said, ‘Yeah, if you want three back, assign five.”

Clearly, this was just busy work and not the kind of academic intervention these kids needed, he said. Not only has that changed, but students and their parents or guardian have a meeting with teachers every six weeks.

Yet, instead of this being view as a burden or onerous, students actually look forward to these conferences because they are not structured and are meant to be enlightening instead of confrontational.

“It’s a meeting about them, and you’d be surprised what they bring up at this meeting and what they let us know … because we’ve created a safe haven,” Mullen said. “Research has shown that students don’t say they drop out because it’s too academically challenging. They tell us time and time again, they left because nobody cared, nobody paid attention to whether they showed up or not. Whether that’s real or perceived is irrelevant.”

Naomi Dillon|April 11th, 2010|Categories: NSBA Annual Conference 2010, School Board News, Special Education, Student Achievement, Teachers, Wellness|

Hot law topics include two Supreme Court cases

Several recent Supreme Court cases and Circuit Court opinions will impact school districts, NSBA General Counsel Francisco Negron said in a session today on hot law topics.

NSBA’s Office of General Counsel is following two Supreme Court cases this session—both of which will be argued on April 19.

NSBA has filed a brief in City of Ontario v. Quon, which is not a school-law case but could impact school officials’ rights on monitoring employee communications, particularly in the emerging area of electronic communications. The case centers on a city’s action to search employees’ pagers for text messages, where a search of one employee’s device showed numerous sexually explicit and personal messages.

District officials need the authority to search work-issued electronic devices in certain cases, given that the information could impact students’ education environments and safety.

“We want the Court to understand the realities of the school district workplace,” Negron said.

NSBA also is supporting Hastings College of Law, in San Francisco, which withheld recognition to a Christian student group that denies full voting membership to homosexuals, nonbelievers, and others whom the group says follow “a sexually immoral lifestyle.” NSBA’s brief states that Hastings’ law school did not violate the group’s First Amendment rights.

The case impacts school districts because they need the authority to regulate student groups and extracurricular activities, as those are integral to K-12 education, NSBA says.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently reversed a lower court decision on the topic of special education attorney fees. In El Paso Independent School District v. Richard R., the school district agreed to provide a student with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder additional services to end a lawsuit brought by the student and his family. However, the student continued the lawsuit to obtain a court judgment for the services and wanted the school district to pay his attorney fees.

After an initial ruling that said the student’s demand was acceptable because a “private settlement” would not be enforceable in state and federal courts, the 5th Circuit ruled that the student had violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which favors cooperative and early resolution of disputes, by prolonging the lawsuit.

“This was a good decision,” Negron said.

Another decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed a Washington school district’s rights to ban religious songs during school ceremonies after a student asked to perform Ave Maria at a high school graduation. The decision concluded that the school’s prohibition against the performance as part of its effort to keep all musical performances at graduation entirely secular was reasonable and did not violate the Establishment Clause.

Negron also spoke on the recently announced retirement of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. The Obama administration will certainly replace Stevens with a like-minded, liberal leaning justice, who would not significantly alter composition of the court, he said.

But what’s more likely to impact the court is the fact that Stevens, who was appointed by President Ford in 1975, was the most senior-level justice and was instrumental in writing opinions or choosing the justice to write the opinion.

Joetta Sack-Min|April 10th, 2010|Categories: NSBA Annual Conference 2010, School Board News, School Law, Special Education|

Use of restraint and seclusion questioned

It’s not an easy topic to discuss, but the use of physical restraints or seclusion to control or discipline violent students with disabilities is an issue that school districts and their legal staff must plan proactively.

That was the advice of a panel of lawyers and special education experts who presented a workshop for members of NSBA’s Council of School Attorneys today.

“This is increasingly a very important and timely issue—there are incidents every day throughout the country,” said Edward Sullivan, a partner with the Baker & Daniels law firm in South Bend, Ind. He added, “There are high costs to failing to do it right, certainly the costs on students and families, their relationships with schools, public relations with the community, staff morale, and the costs of litigation.”

Last year, a report by the federal General Accounting Office found hundreds of cases where students with disabilities were injured, emotionally traumatized, or in a handful of instances, killed while being improperly restrained by teachers or other school staff. The report provoked U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and federal lawmakers to call for more monitoring of these incidents.

Sullivan noted that research and data show that intensive restraint holds and seclusion rooms do not work. Instead, teachers and staff should focus on using restraints only in emergency situations, if the student or classmates and staff may be injured.

Legislation passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and under consideration in the Senate would alter school officials’ rights to prescribe a restraint within a students’ individualized education plan. Currently, courts have tended to protect school officials from legal actions by parents and students if the IEP includes such means.

With an IEP, schools have assurance that the parent or guardian would allow the disciplinary actions and that the teacher would have training in performing a restraint, added Mary Jo Dare, a senior advisor at B&D Consulting and former special education director.

The bill, which passed the House after several emotionally charged hearings, would state that restraints can be used only if a student or peers were in imminent danger of physical injury and if less intrusive means would not work. It also would ban mechanical devices and require school staff to be trained in proper methods of restraint and prevention. Although NSBA is supporting the bill, which also has been endorsed by a long list of education, civil rights, and disability groups, there are concerns about the IEP provisions as well as funding for the new data and training requirements.

One issue, Dare said, is that currently “99 percent of training is on how to avoid the need for restraints.” Instead, school officials should look at positive behavioral supports that impact the entire school culture.

Such supports “help eliminate a large percentage of discipline issues,” she said. Those make sure schools know how to analyze behavior, and will be better to understand the root of the problem and respond with a less intrusive support.

Read more on the issue of restraints and seclusion in special education in the March issue of American School Board Journal.

Joetta Sack-Min|April 9th, 2010|Categories: NSBA Annual Conference 2010, School Board News, School Law, Special Education, Student Achievement|

Webinar helps educators understand autism

The rising number of students with autism is impacting schools across the country, but new resources are available to help school boards and school staff members work with these children to help them cope with educational and social challenges.

NSBA’s National Affiliate program held a webinar, “The Key is Leadership: Success in School for Students with Autism,” cosponsored by Autism Speaks and the National Association of Elementary School Principals, to help school officials understand the disability.

The rates of autism have risen exponentially in the past 20 years, and now one in 110 children, and one in 70 boys, have been diagnosed with the neurological disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Part of the reason for the increase is that pediatricians and school staff have become much more aware of the symptoms, which include social difficulties, communication challenges, and repetitive or odd behaviors.

The condition presents itself differently in each person, and each person acts and learns in different ways, noted Lisa Goring, the director of family services with Autism Speaks, an advocacy and educational group. “It’s often said if you’ve seen one person with autism, you’ve seen one person with autism,” she said.

The condition impacts a students’ schoolwork through their processing of concepts and behavioral disabilities. The challenge for schools is figuring out ways to work with their learning patterns. One example shown was a child who was offered pretzels, an apple, or graham crackers for a snack. The teacher always presented the options in that order and the boy always chose graham crackers, but he was usually unhappy and threw out his snack. A developmental specialist realized that the boy could not remember the choices and always chose the one that was presented last—so instead she showed pictures of each snack and the boy learned to choose the pretzels.

Like other disabilities, early detection and intervention is crucial to success—educators need to have a student evaluated if they suspect a developmental delay or specific sign of autism.

Another important factor for school officials to consider is the acceptance of the student with autism among their peers, said Peter Faustino, the school psychologist at Fox Lane Middle School in Bedford, N.Y. His school has set up a peer-buddy system to help students with autism better integrate into regular classes and socialize with their nondisabled peers. The program has also helped the other students empathize and accept the students with autism.

The Bedford school district also integrates information about autism into its professional development for teachers and administrators, who have been very receptive to the training, Faustino said.

“Autism can be looked at as another culture that we are trying to integrate into the school,” he said.

Autism Speaks offers a free kit to educators and advice on working with parents to provide a better educational experience, including a video, which can be downloaded at www.autismspeaks.org/whatisit/talking_to_parents_action_kit.php.

This webinar, including the video, PowerPoint presentations, and additional resources, will be archived at www.nsba.org/webchannelNA.

Joetta Sack-Min|March 24th, 2010|Categories: Curriculum, School Board News, School Boards, Special Education, Student Achievement, Teachers|

Keeping all students safe

Photo courtesy Stockvault

Photo courtesy Stockvault

Special education is one of the most complicated, misunderstood, and underreported facets of K-12 education. And for journalists, the factors that make special education topics so compelling—the emotions, the politics, and the money (lots of money)—are the same issues that give school board members angst.

Last week the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Keeping All Students Safe Act (formerly the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act),

 H.R. 4247, a bill that would mandate states and districts to monitor the use of restraints and seclusion or isolation in all classrooms, report actions to parents, and provide better training for teachers.

The bill is strongly supported by the disability community, but also by education groups including NSBA and the American Federation of Teachers, who typically advocate for local control for school officials on such issues. In spite of this endorsement, quite a few school board members are concerned—and rightly so–that this bill would lead to another unfunded mandate and paperwork for their districts.
(more…)

Naomi Dillon|March 15th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Policy Formation, Special Education|Tags: , , |

Temple Grandin: The world needs all kinds of minds

In her recent TED talk, Temple Grandin, diagnosed with autism as a child, tells us how her mind works. She gives an overview of how people on the autism spectrum think and makes the case that the world needs those people: visual thinkers, pattern thinkers, verbal thinkers, and all kinds of smart geeky kids. She describes autism as “a continuum of traits. When does a nerd turn into Asperger’s, which is just mild autism? I mean Einstein and Mozart and Tesla, would all be probably diagnosed as autistic spectrum today.”

Grandin advocates that people on the autism spectrum need to be encouraged in school. The standardized testing scheme of the No Child Left Behind Act simply doesn’t work for neuroatypicals as she calls them. This is just one reason why the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is important to our education system. One-size-fits-all is not an educational policy that will work for neuroatypicals. Individualized Education Programs (IEP) can do wonders for such students. 

More importantly, Grandin is not arguing that autistic students need such flexibility for their own interests alone; she contends that we as a society need these kids. The wonders to be found in the neuroatypical mind could be key to solving future problems.

Grandin also speaks her mind on certain education reforms. She advocates the need for classroom teachers who can teach a subject well, but who don’t necessarily have education degrees:

 And this brings up mentors. You know, my science teacher was not an accredited teacher. He was a NASA space scientist. Now, some states now are getting it to where if you have a degree in biology, or a degree in chemistry, you can come into the school and teach biology or chemistry. We need to be doing that. Because what I’m observing is the good teachers, for a lot of these kids, are out in the community colleges.

Mentorship is certainly an idea BoardBuzz can get behind. There are undoubtedly many bright young minds that just need the right mentor to help them find their talent and develop that potential. Grandin called on the TED audience to think about mentoring and hiring those kids.

She also joked that Silicon Valley would not exist today if it weren’t for those geeky neuroatypical minds, which drew a big laugh from the techie crowd. And she suggested that this next generation of kids with autism, properly mentored and motivated, could solve the world’s energy problems.

“The world needs different kinds of minds to work together,” she said. Check out the Ted Talk below or at the link above.

Erin Walsh|March 5th, 2010|Categories: Educational Legislation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Special Education, Student Achievement, Teachers|
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