The problem with special education

Learning Disability | Learning Disability Stock Photo When u… | Flickr

There’s a problem with special education in the US. Marc Tucker tries to get down to the bottom of things

“The most likely explanation is that the very act of formally designating a student as a special education student lowers the expectations for that student’s performance held by everyone whose expectations count: teachers, parents, the student and their peers.”

I think Tucker’s hypothesis bears some truth. From my own experience as a special education teacher, I’ve seen how the label introduces its own set of psychological burdens. And we have a lot of kids being labeled who are simply struggling with academics, but not with any overt “disability” that can be clearly discerned.

“Far from suggesting that the top performers should learn a thing or two from us about helping special education students, we should be learning from the top performers how to keep students who do not truly need it out of special education by doing what they are doing to enable them to reach high standards in the first place.”

So how do other countries keep students out of special education?

“The top performers provide far more support than the U.S. does to families with young children—everything from cash awards to nutritional assistance to pregnant women to very long and well-supported family leave for fathers and mothers to universal, high-quality child care and early childhood education. But it does not stop there. It also includes a higher ratio of teachers to students in schools serving low-income, minority students; extra funds for schools serving large numbers of vulnerable students; coordinated social services; strong incentives for their best teachers and principals to serve in schools with large proportions of vulnerable students; more time for students who need extra time to reach high standards; close monitoring of student progress to make sure that students who start to fall behind get the help they need to catch up quickly and more time for teachers to work one-on-one and in small groups with students who need extra help.”

Reading this list, it just seems so common-sense, doesn’t it? Yet the tragedy is that there is little political will nor ideological support for these kinds of investments in the US. You start saying this kind of stuff too often, you get labeled as some kind of socialist or union shill. The reality is that when it comes to things like public education and social services, the people in the US who have the money and/or power to make things happen are most interested in things that sparkle and that offer the promise of a quick fix.

Yet Tucker also provides an interesting point in his conclusion, when he brings up the outlier in special education labeling, Finland, which labels upward of 38 percent of their kids:

“In Finland, they solved the problem by simply saying that many kinds of students need special help. Some may be gifted and some might have a hearing or vision problem. Some might need one-time-only help and others might need continuous help. In Finland, most students get “special education” help at least once in their school career. Because that is true, there is no stigma. Every school has a “special education” teacher trained to provide a wide range of special help to the students in that school who need it. This is an idea worth conjuring with.”

This definitely bears promise. In fact, this is how the special education team at my former middle school began approaching services. We recognized just how much of a stigma being labeled “special ed” had on kids, so we set about rebranding our work. We called ourselves Student Support services–because at some point, every student needs some kind of support.

Sounds a lot more positive, doesn’t it? Maybe special education as a system needs to be rebranded in this way.

Have We Got Special Education All Wrong?, Marc Tucker on Huff Post

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Friday Smorgasbord: Neoliberalism, Charters, & Glasses

A friendly reminder: Schools are complex

“More interventions might not always be better and may have unintended consequences that impact a school’s long term ability to improve,” write Dougherty and Weiner.

New study deepens nation’s school turnaround mystery, finding little success in Rhode Island, Chalkbeat

The pervasive problem of neoliberalism

Society reconceived as a giant market leads to a public life lost to bickering over mere opinions; until the public turns, finally, in frustration to a strongman as a last resort for solving its otherwise intractable problems.

…When we abandoned, for its embarrassing residue of subjectivity, reason as a form of truth, and made science the sole arbiter of both the real and the true, we created a void that pseudo-science was happy to fill.

Implications for education here.

Neoliberalism: the idea that swallowed the world, The Guardian

Irony in the daggers thrown at NY state proposal for new charter teacher training

Calling the proposal “insulting,” Rosa said, “don’t compromise my profession.”

This is from the same Board of Regents that has removed basic literacy requirements for new teachers.

There’s a teacher shortage in high needs subjects and of teachers of color. Seems to me if charters can demonstrate they can train new teachers adequately without certification, then this could be a viable pathway into the profession that we should be welcoming, rather than fighting against. In the meantime, we can work on actually elevating the certified pathway by beefing up our higher ed programs and more closely examining how well they really are preparing teachers in the field.

Yes, I think charters overwork their teachers and demand a lot of them, often for less pay. I wouldn’t want to teach at Success Academy. But that would be the price to pay for not gaining certification via a more traditional route.

I’m all about honoring the profession. But I also know, like many other educators, that the real learning only began once I got into the classroom. It’s about whether or not you’ve been supported at that point thereon that really matters.

If charters can demonstrate effectiveness with these uncertified teachers, then what’s the problem? Isn’t this about the kids?

Charter Schools Could Get to Hire Teachers With Only 30 Hours of Training, DNAInfo

The importance of glasses in the classroom

Each year in my classroom, I had kids who desperately needed glasses and didn’t have them. My school worked with parents and external partners to obtain them, but it was a process. And there were some of my students who I had to “remind” to wear their glasses in my glass every single day, because they didn’t want to wear them.

But something this elemental can have a huge impact. So I’m heartened to see this effort in Baltimore to bring free eyeglasses to students to demonstrate this impact.

“The outcomes were notable enough even with the small sample size—reading proficiency improved significantly compared with the children who did not need eyeglasses—that the researchers decided to radically expand the study to the whole city to see if the results held.”

How Free Eyeglasses Are Boosting Test Scores in Baltimore, Politico magazine

Poor children who grow up in rural counties are more likely to marry

Writers such as author and CNN commentator J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, look at rural areas and see dysfunction and decline. Citing Chetty, Vance wrote that in Appalachia “poor kids really struggled.”

What Chetty and Hendren find, however, is that much of rural America isn’t a source of individual pathology but a place where we can all witness the beneficial impacts of community.

Rural Upbringing Increases Odds That Young People Will Marry, The Daily Yonder

School closing and consolidations can be bad for rural communities

Schools matter to the social fabric and cultural vitality of a rural community; they are places where relationships are sustained, where traditions are preserved and values are learned.

Close A Rural School, Hurt A Rural Community, The Daily Yonder

Mini-Smorgasbord Monday: School Choice, Nuance, and Opioids

File:Stick figure - choice.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
By Obsidian Soul (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Choice is no guarantee of quality

“…a remark by a DeVos spokesperson last week — ‘the ultimate accountability for schools is whether or not parents choose to send their children there’ — should be seen as an attack on the idea that school quality matters. It’s fake accountability.”

This is an important point to bear in mind. There are some choice advocates who argue that rich parents already have choice and no one critiques or limits their choices, so why shouldn’t poor parents be able to make their own choices, misinformed or no?

While there’s rhetorical attraction to that proposition, it’s also a circular argument, since the primary reason choice advocates call for choice in the first place is because parents with only poor performing schools located near them should have access and options for higher quality schools.

Other than the hard-line free-marketeers, few choice advocates would argue for unfettered choice without adequate oversight. How about we have more arguments about the oversight itself, rather than choice as some mystical holy grail?

Cantor: When a Bounty of Options Aren’t Enough, How Poor Parents Really Practice School Choice, The 74

Should vouchers be equated with segregation? It’s complicated.

Matt Barnum brings in the nuance. Like many things in ed world, we need to avoid painting vouchers with a broad partisan brush (saying this as much to myself as to you).

And a lot of how vouchers or education savings accounts are perceived has to do with how they are framed.

“Advocates for school choice often point to the support of black and Hispanic voters. An Education Next poll found that nearly 64 percent of African-Americans and 62 percent of Hispanics — compared to 50 percent of white respondents — would back a tax credit program to fund private school tuition.

But support for private school choice programs tends to drop substantially when the word “voucher” is introduced or the use of public dollars is emphasized.”

Critics of vouchers say they’re marred by racism and exacerbate segregation. Are they right?, Chalkbeat

Scholarly nuance on charters vs. districts

“Despite some important differences, the teaching climates of charter and public schools do not match the enthusiastic expectations of proponents or the worst fears of critics.”

Please keep this guy away from rousing charter school debate, Huff Post

Speaking of scholarly nuance on charters vs. districts, check out these two longreads to broaden your nuanced perspective on charters and districts:

The Secret History of School Choice: How Progressives Got There First, James Forman in Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository (H/T Matt Barnum)

The Structure of Educational Revolutions, Andy Smarick in National Affairs

Charters should be able to hire uncertified teachers

Given that most ed programs haven’t exactly demonstrated a concern about outcomes and actually preparing their teachers for real classrooms, seems to me that it would make sense to allow charter schools in NY to hire uncertified teachers and train them as they see fit. Hold them accountable for the results.

And let’s be honest–the most successful charters have tightly managed structures that pair assessment, curriculum, and professional learning that could probably better prepare teachers — or send them on their way if they don’t perform.

How Teachers Are Taught, Monica Disare in The Atlantic

The difference a father can make

“My parents didn’t think I was less than my brothers because I’m a girl. My father Ziauddin says, ‘Don’t ask me what I did. Ask me what I did not do. I did not clip her wings.’ ”

Our Q&A with Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize winner and education advocate, The Lily

Teen herd behavior channels the opioid epidemic into schools

“The 16-year-old, a student at a specialized and highly competitive public high school, says drug use runs rampant at her school.

‘I was drinking and smoking (pot) because it was accepted,’ said the teen-age girl, who asked to remain anonymous to prevent bullying at her school.”

During finals and midterm exams, she said, students pop prescription stimulants such as Adderall, Vyvanse and Ritalin to aid their studies.

‘It’s crazy,’ she said. ‘Even the kids who never use drugs want to enhance their brains, so they’re taking these drugs.’

The girl’s mother thinks the school didn’t do enough to help her daughter.

‘I still don’t understand why the school had no control over what kids are doing besides academics,’ she said tearfully.’

‘Teenagers are very hormonal and go through a lot of changes,’ [the student} explained. ‘Those emotions have nowhere to go. It’s the only way that they can get a grip on themselves and their feelings.’ ”

New York City’s opioid crisis seeps into public schools as drug counselors see uptick in student addicts, NY Daily News

Smorgasbord: August looms

A chart from one of my recent sessions

Teacher evaluation is about relationships and learning, not about scores

Long ago, I co-wrote a policy paper advocating for a teacher evaluation system that acknowledges that evaluation is a conversation that requires the context of a professional learning community, with input not only from the administration, but furthermore one’s peers.

While a pre and post-conference is included in most current eval systems, the reality is that the focus is on 1) compliance (paperwork), 2) the stakes/consequences attached to that paperwork, and 3) the demands of a very subjective rubric, rather than on the practices and content that will move learning forward for students.

So it should come as no surprise that few teachers are rated poorly by their principals. These systems have become all about summative evaluation, rather than formative feedback, and thus have lost sight of the real purpose of the system in the first place — to improve teacher practice and student learning. Effective principals will use the system to have those conversations — but they won’t rate their teachers poorly on paper unless they are intent on pushing them out the building.

Principals Are Loath to Give Teachers Bad Ratings, Ed Week

Research shows: Elect Democrats to fight segregated schools

Partisan tensions between individualism/choice and systems/regulation in action.

Want to reduce racial segregation? Elect a Democrat to school board, study says, Chalkbeat NY

Andy Rotherham argues against safe spaces

“. . . challenging people to become bigger than themselves is at its core an act of respect and love. Shielding them from challenge, especially in their most formative years, is fundamentally deeply disrespectful to them and their education.”

He’s talking about higher ed. But this also applies–arguably, even more importantly–in K-12.

Challenge Students, Don’t Shield Them,” US News

John King and Arne Duncan plead for sanity in regulations to protect students

“Protecting students and taxpayers shouldn’t be a partisan political issue.”

It shouldn’t. Unfortunately, however–in our country, in these times–it is.

Trump administration is putting profits over students, The Hill

The Problem with Robot Teachers

“I . . . worry that we’re slowly evolving toward a system where the affluent get that kind of education and the poor get automated schooling.”

Are The Robots Coming? Is The K-12 Sector Allergic To Accountability? Cheating In DC, College Access, David Harris Goes TEDx, Claudio Sanchez On ESSA, Jeff Walker On Systems Entrepreneurs, Curbing Eliteness, Cow Horse, More!, Eduwonk

A middle school in the South Bronx harnesses the power of testing & practice

This Bronx school is applying what we know from decades of research: repeated quizzing and practice of key skills and concepts, spaced out over time, transfers learning into long-term memory.

Kudos to MS 343. When you think about just how much of an outlier this approach is, it’s pretty disturbing. Most schools do not have a coherent and systematic approach to what they teach, nor consider how they are reinforcing what is most essential to learn across grades and classrooms.

Why this Bronx middle school believes in second — and third — chances, Chalkbeat NY

Speaking of practice, here’s 10 teaching techniques worth practicing

This is a useful list of a few pedagogical methods worth spending time mastering from UK educator Tom Sherrington, which are based on Deans for Impact’s advice for deliberate practice.

Ten teaching techniques to practise – deliberately., Teacherhead.com

NYCDOE is pressing ATRs into schools

Dan Weisberg writes an op-ed in The 74 against the move, claiming that “Principals would go back to hiding vacancies and would justifiably argue that they can’t be held accountable for student learning if they don’t get to pick their teams.”

His claim appears to be justified, as a recent Chalkbeat article reports:

“I’m going to make sure my school doesn’t have a vacancy,” said one Bronx principal who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the topic. “I’m not going to post a vacancy if someone will place an ATR there. I’ll be as strategic as I can and figure out another way.”

I think Weisberg’s suggestion makes much more sense: set a time limit on how long someone can be in the ATR pool.

Weisberg: Paying Teachers Not to Teach Is Absurd — but Reviving NYC’s ‘Dance of the Lemons’ Hurts Kids, The 74

New York City principals balk at plan to place teachers in their schools; some vow to get around it, Chalkbeat NY

Randi Weingarten calls Devos’s brand of choice what it is — but what is her union doing to fight segregation?

I think Weingarten is pointing out an inconvenient truth by calling vouchers a “polite form of segregation,” given their history and the folks that most typically foam at the mouth over them.

But I do wonder what exactly she and her union are doing to fight segregated schools. Public schools are doing plenty on their own to contribute to segregation without any consideration of charters nor vouchers.

TEACHERS UNION CHIEF: SCHOOL CHOICE ROOTED IN SEGREGATION, AP News

Smorgasbord: The politics of Ed

Chalkbeat takes a look at De Blasio’s campaign promises on education and how they’ve played out

Overall, seems to me De Blasio & Farina have rolled out some pretty solid stuff when you look at it as a whole, minus the politics. I think the district restructuring is a mixed bag and the top-down management is problematic, but the smooth roll-out of pre-K services, and Single Shepherd and AP and College Access programs will be gamechangers for kids in the long run.

Where we need to keep pushing De Blasio and Farina: autonomy and accountability for school leaders, reducing partisanship over charters and choice, and fighting segregation.

There’s always plenty to criticize in any Mayor or Chancellor’s reign. I’ve gotten into frequent arguments with my colleagues about Bloomberg and Klein’s administration because I’m unwilling to paint their leadership and policies with one broad stroke of good/bad. Let’s talk about what is working and criticize what’s not.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has made many education promises. Here’s what he’s delivered so far — and what he hasn’t, Chalkbeat NY

Speaking of critique–here’s the problem with the way we talk about improvement in ed

David Cantor at the 74 has insightful analysis of NY politics and how it’s affecting the Mayoral Control debate–and the way we talk about education.

“Preschools don’t yield the hard, annual data markers that reputations and public support are built on. The measurable impact of the program likely won’t reveal itself to researchers until this mayor is no longer in office.”

He’s right. This is one of the fundamental problems with how we look at education. If we are only focused on the short-term, then all we will get is short-term effects, which may ultimately be detrimental.

Here’s a case in point. Due to the outsized focus on test scores in elementary schools, many principals place their most effective teachers in the 3rd grade or higher, because that’s the grades that are tested. But a far better strategy, in the long-term, would be to place your hard-hitters in the earliest grades, because that investment will better build the foundations for learning that many kids desperately need.

Similarly, principals talk about focusing all their attention and resources on their “pushables”–the kids who are at the upper borders of a 1 or 2 or 3 on the state test. So what’s going to happen to the students that aren’t so labeled? And what’s going to happen to the coherence in your instruction across your school?

Interestingly, some reform pundit focus in response to Cantor’s cogent article is to highlight his criticism of De Blasio’s renewal school bloatware and his antipathy to the media. But here’s what Cantor says right after that:

There may be something more: apathy. Not his; ours. Fixing schools is difficult work; it’s slow; you lose people’s attention. “People are more concerned about the subways,” said Weisberg.

Holding attention is essential to warding off politicians and being able to do “the hard work that has to happen inside schools,” as Henig says.”

Indeed. The real work of education is incremental, it’s hard, and it won’t grab many headlines.

Analysis: The Fierce Fight Over Mayoral Control Reflects De Blasio’s Weakness on Education, the 74

Speaking of surface level judgments . . . college teachers grade attractive students higher

This result, they add, was “driven mainly by courses taught by male instructors.”

ATTRACTIVE STUDENTS GET HIGHER GRADES, Pacific Standard

All charters can’t be painted with the same brush–just like public schools

Sara Mead argues that “it’s hard to make any single statement that accurately characterizes the national charter school landscape as a whole.”

Indeed. It’s hard to make any single statement that accurately characterizes schools period. This is one of the core issues about how we talk about schools, whether public, charter, or private.

Look Beyond the Acela Corridor, US News

Lessons on desegregation from Dallas

1) Open up admissions (a lottery system, rather than selective admissions)

2) Set aside a certain percentage for low-income students

Dallas Schools, Long Segregated, Charge Forward on Diversity, NY Times

A new study says that diverse classrooms increase student well-being

In the more diverse schools, “kids have more opportunity to have cross-race friendships and then they become protective,” Graham said. “So if you’re in a diverse school and you’ve made friends with people from different racial and ethnic groups then they help protect you, they help introduce you to kids in their ethnic, racial group, there’s more opportunities to find your niche and fit in.”

New research: student well-being higher in diverse schools, KPCC

EdBuild releases a report on the secession of white parents from school districts that deepens segregation

“Alabama makes it particularly easy for small towns to secede from a larger school district, but 30 states have processes codified in state law that allow for secession, some more permissive than others. Procedures range from only a majority vote in a small, breakaway neighborhood in some states to a multistep process involving a state agency or legislative approval in others.”

Fractured: The Breakdown of America’s School Districts, EdBuild

Privatizing (aka “optimizing”) public services

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the administration was focusing on technology this week. He said there was “a lot of room for optimization in the federal government.”

What does “optimizing” our public institutions and services mean?

“Cook, the Apple CEO, requested that computer coding be taught in every public school. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said workers need more skills for a technology-based economy. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos encouraged the government to use commercial technology to save money and develop artificial intelligence to improve government services.

Venture capitalist John Doerr asked for the government to open up its databases to private firms, saying it would transform health care.”

In other words, use public institutions to serve private interests. Hmm. What does serving public interests mean again now?

Tech CEOs visit White House to talk modernizing government, AP

The ecosystem metaphor is used to argue for an ed reform focus on two-parent families

“The education reform community has a unique responsibility as keepers of perhaps the remaining civic institution—public schools—that interacts with almost every child for prolonged periods almost every week (or at least the thirty-six weeks of the school year). That is why two-generation solutions such as a parent-home-visiting program or the Success Sequence should be explored as part of a core curriculum, given the data that show it’s nearly impossible for a poor person to remain poor if that person makes a series of life choices—finish high school, secure a job, and get married before having a child, in that order.”

If not us, who will make humans human? If not now, a new generation of fragile families looms., Flypaper

Chester Finn slams book promoting free-for-all marketplace from charter school advocates

Finn uses some choice words against a recent book from charter school advocates that promotes reduced accountability to increase parental choice:

This is idiocy. It’s also entirely unrealistic in the ESSA era. It arises from the view—long since dismissed by every respectable economist—that education is a private good and the public has no interest in an educated citizenry. Once you conclude that education is also a public good—one whose results bear powerfully on our prosperity, our safety, our culture, our governance, and our civic life—you have to recognize that voters and taxpayers have a compelling interest in whether kids are learning what they should, at least in schools that call themselves “public.”

I wish more folks understood that education is a public good.

New book from charter school advocates offers lots of bad advice, Flypaper