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Donald Trump believes that “the education is flush with cash”. How did he get that “alternative fact”?

23 Jan

Donald Trump was inaugurated last Friday. His speech was overall very poor, but one statement stood out to me above all the others. A statement which is not getting much (if any) press:

But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.

Emphasis added.

I don’t think anyone who actually deals with the education system in America would consider it “flush with cash”. That said, no one involved in special education would every say such a clearly false statement.

We absolutely are not serving our students, but this is because our education system is woefully underfunded. My own district cut back on many school days a few years ago when California cut the funding sent to districts. Guess what, when funding returned, the district didn’t restore the days we lost. We have about 10 education days fewer than before the budget crunch.

And that’s just in general. Special Education, since the first law in the 1970’s, was supposed to come with 40% of the costs covered by the Federal Government. OK, they said a “maximum” of 40%, but the Federal government has never come close. Estimates are that the contribution is about 17%.

These are the disabled children of our country. Does “America First” mean, “non disabled American’s first”, Mr Trump? Or will you be the one who finally corrects this injustice? That’s going to be hard to do if you think that schools are “flush with cash”.

You’ve come down from your tower to live in a mansion. One walled off from the world. And you surround yourself with people who, like you, don’t understand the experiences of the majority of Americans. And when you make statements like “flush with cash”, it shows.

I’ll be honest, one disappointment with Mr. Obama’s administration was his failure to live up to America’s commitment to people with disabilities, including funding Special Education. How about you prove you can do better than Mr. Obama–don’t tell us that school systems are “flush with cash”, make them flush with cash.


By Matt Carey

Could schools be doing more to identify autistic kids?

5 Aug

Autism is supposed to present before age 3. One might then think that most autistics would be diagnosed by age three, but this is not the case. The average age of diagnosis is above age three. Consider the recent National Survey of Children’s Health. This survey was the basis for the recent autism prevalence estimate of 1 in 50 in the U.S.. When were these kids diagnosed? The question was posed in the survey:

NCHS age distribution

Most kids were diagnosed after age 3. Many after age 5. A significant minority after age 10.

One would hope that parents, pediatricians, family members, day care workers, pre school staff and more would raise flags before kids enter school. But not all kids go to day care or preschool. One would hope that when kids get to kindergarten they might be referred for evaluations if they show signs of autism. One might think that a school nurse or a school psychologist would test a kid and inform parents of the possibility of autism. But that doesn’t seem to happen. Out of over 2000 autistic kids in the survey, only 130 were identified by a school psychologist:

NCHS which doc

Perhaps in some cases parents are being referred to an outside psychologist for diagnosis. But there isn’t strong evidence in the age distribution that a lot of kids are being diagnosed at ages 5 and 6, when they enter school. Don’t get me wrong, teachers and school staff do a lot. But they have a lot to do and autistic kids in regular and special education are not getting identified as early as could happen.

It can be done. Yvette Janvier demonstrated this in underserved communities, but the need is there in all communities.
Study Finds Early Childhood Educators Can Effectively Screen Students For Autism In Underserved Communities


By Matt Carey

An example of why protections must be in place for special education funding

22 Apr

Federal law requires that schools do not reduce support for special education. School can reduce support, but if and when they do they face penalties. The Federal Government has never lived up to its obligation to pay for 40% of the costs of special education. This results in the view by some school officials that special education is an unfunded mandate.

Here’s a hint: education is an unfunded mandate. Education for all is required by law and not paid by the federal government.

Why write about this now? Because of a guest column to a small newspaper in Southern Illinois: Mark Lounsberry: Special-education costs can’t continue.

Mr. Lounsberry is a former president of their board of education. He decrys the costs of special education. In discussing laws which require localities to educate their students, he notes:

The most draining of these are the special-education statutes, both federal and state.

He notes:

They require costly individualized educational plans for the mentally, physically and learning-disabled. Failure to comply invites lawsuits and withdrawal of funding.

Yes, if they don’t educate special needs children they lose funding. If they don’t educate non special education students they will face lawsuits and loss of funding as well.

Mr. Lounsberry feels that behavior disorders are sapping the budget:

These days behavior disorders are included as a part of special-education programs. Most of these problems are a direct result of our crumbling family structure and have swelled the enrollment of special education.

Yes. Bad family structure leads to special education. Bruno Bettleheim is invoked too often in online discussions, in my opinion. But this time we are seeing shades of Bettleheim.

He also notes:

When our budget is reduced and the state does not meet its financial responsibility to our district, we still are required to meet 100 percent of the financial needs of our special-education students.

Small correction (OK, not small): they are required to meet the educational needs of their special education students, not their financial needs.

And, now for the value judgement:

For those not protected by mandate, including our best and brightest, who presumably will be our community leaders and problem solvers, the resources are disproportionately reduced.

Yes. Those who are not in special education are the “best”.

I can’t wait for one of them to grow up and take over the leadership position Mr. Lounsberry appears to leave vacant with his presence.

In case you think I’m stretching the value judgement statement above:

Our education tax dollars would be easier to manage if not burdened with expenses that are more suited for social welfare.

How did someone so ignorant about education become the president of the school board? Seriously?

OK, disabled children are a “burden” to him and do not deserve to be educated. Instead they are a social welfare situation. (why do I doubt he would be willing to pay tax money for the social welfare of the disabled?)

He concludes with:

Education budgets are voted down and local school boards are told to spend dollars more wisely while they have little control over how they must spend their money.

Spending money to educate children is spending it wisely, Mr. Lounsberry. Spending money to educate “the best” as well as the disabled.

This sort of ignorance is precisely why we had no education for the disabled for most of our history. It is only in my lifetime that we as a people recognized our responsibility. Without federal laws protecting special education funding, the Mr. Lounsberrys of the world would eject those with special needs to the (non existent) social welfare system.

By Matt Carey

How Americans would slim down public education

12 Aug

With economic troubles in the U.S. and worldwide continuing for years, schools are facing tough decisions.  A recent survey, How Americans would slim down public education, in the U.S. taps into the public’s support for education in general and also for special education. 

With budget shortfalls predicted for schools (at least in the area I know best: California) people are thinking of how to react in case of budget shortfalls.  There is no support for increasing taxes to support schools, instead “dramatically changing how [schools] do business”:

End Business as Usual
Which would be the best approach for your district to take if it was facing a serious budget deficit?

48% Cut costs by dramatically changing how it does business.

26% Change as little as possible; wait for times to get better

11% Rely on tax increases

7%  Something else

8%  Don’t know

Which begs the question of how dramatic changes might affect special education.  While there is broad support for special education, there is a strong sentiment that there are children in special ed who do not belong:

When it comes to budget cuts, special education is not immune as far as most Americans are concerned. That’s not to say the commitment of Americans to educate children with special needs is waning—it’s not. But they have concerns about the growth, cost, and effectiveness of serving these kids well.

The overwhelming majority of the public, 83 percent, believes that “the public schools have a moral obligation to educate kids with special needs and learning disabilities, even if it’s more difficult and expensive to do so.”

76 percent believe that “too many students are being mislabeled as having special needs when they just have behavior problems or weren’t taught well in the first place.”

71 percent believe that special education programs should be “evaluated according to whether they help students learn—when students don’t learn, the programs should be replaced

The public is split on supporting the law’s provisions that cost should not be a factor in deciding a special education placement:

According to federal law, districts are required to provide special education services, but they are not allowed to consider the costs of those services. Do you think districts should be allowed to weigh costs when considering which special education services to choose, or do you think the law should be left as is?

44 Districts should be allowed to weigh costs when considering which special education services to choose

47 The law should be left as is

9 [Vol.] Don’t know

There is a lot more discussion in the report on ways schools could (e.g. cut pay, change retirement) and should not (e.g. lay off faculty) reduce costs. More can be found in the report.

Most people think that their schools are an asset to thrir community , but also that the schools have been hit hard by the recession and (77%) that the financial problems will last a long time.

__
By Matt Carey

The 2013 U.S. budget fails to fulfill the promise to fund IDEA

5 Apr

Part of President Obama’s platform when he was campaigning 4 years ago was to fully fund the Federal commitment to special education. On average, a special education student requires about twice the funding as a regular education student. The Federal government made a commitment to pay states 40% of the costs of special education, but has never lived up to that commitment. Typically, the Federal contribution to IDEA is about 17%.

When he campaigned, Mr. Obama’s platform included “Fully Funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act”:

Fully Funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: Barack Obama has been a strong and consistent advocate for fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Congress promised to shoulder 40 percent of each state’s “excess cost” of educating children with disabilities, but it has never lived up to this obligation. Currently, the federal government provides less than half of the promised funding (17 percent). Children are being shortchanged, and their parents are forced to fight with cash-strapped school districts to get the free and appropriate education the IDEA promises their children. Fully funding IDEA will provide students with disabilities the public education they have a right to, and school districts will be able to provide services without cutting into their general education budgets. In addition to fully funding IDEA, Barack Obama and Joe Biden will ensure effective implementation and enforcement of the Act.

The 2011 proposed budget by Mr. Obama had this language (as I noted in 2010):

The $12.8 billion request for Special Education programs focuses on improving educational and early intervention outcomes for children with disabilities. For the Grants to States program, the Administration is requesting $11.8 billion, an increase of $250 million over the 2010 appropriation, to maintain the Federal contribution toward meeting the excess cost of special education at about 17 percent of the national average per pupil expenditure (APPE), and provide an estimated average of $1,750 per student for about 6.7 million children ages 3 through 21. Funding for the Grants for Infants and Families and Preschool Grants programs would be maintained at their 2010 levels

Which kept funding levels at about the same 17%, not the 40% level committed

For the 2013 budget, Mr. Obama proposes:

Increase Funding for the Education of Children with Disabilities. The Budget provides $11.6 billion for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Grants to States to provide a high quality education and help offset State and local education costs for children with disabilities. The Budget also provides a $20 million, or 5 percent, increase for the IDEA Infants and Families Program to provide the youngest children a good start. In addition, the Budget provides $30 million, a $28 million increase over 2012, for PROMISE (Promoting Readiness of Minors in SSI), a four agency joint pilot program, to fund and evaluate innovative approaches to improving outcomes of children receiving Supplemental Security Income and their families.

Yes, $11.6B. Less than the 2011 budget amount of $11.8B and, again, not the 40% of the campaign promise.

The intent of special education legislation has always included Federal funding for the states. What we now call IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act) started out as the “Education For All Handicapped Children Act“, which, itself, is the short name for the bill. The full name for the bill was: “A bill to provide financial assistance to the States for improved educational services for handicapped children.” Pretty clear there.

But congress gave themselves an out. Two outs, really. The summary of the bill states:

Education for All Handicapped Children Act – Extends the provisions of the Education of the Handicapped Act through fiscal year 1977 and authorizes appropriations for such years.

And there you see one of the “outs” the government has with not paying their full commitment. The law “authorizes appropriations”. In other words, they give themselves permission to add it to the budget–but they don’t *require* that it be added to the budget. It’s common language (as I recall, “authorizing appropriations” is in the Combating Autism Act as well).

Here’s the second “out” the legislature used. In the original version of the bill (House Resolution 7217) the law read:

Provides that the Commissioner of Education shall, in accordance with provisions of the Education of the Handicapped Act, make payments to State educational agencies for grants made for assistance in providing full educational opportunity to all handicapped children. States that such allotments shall be in an amount equal to the product of the number of handicapped children in the school district of the local educational agency who are enrolled in programs of free appropriate public education meeting the criteria established in this Act, and 50 percent of the average per pupil expenditure in public elementary and secondary schools in the United States.

They were going to pay 50% of the cost of special education. (special education funding is about twice that of regular education. So by granting the states an additional 50% per special ed student, they are paying 1/2 the funding difference). But the House version of the law was tabled in favor of the senate law

States that the maximum amount of the grant to which a State is entitled under such Act shall equal the number of handicapped children aged three to twenty-one, who are receiving special education in such State, multiplied by a percentage of the average per pupil expenditure in public elementary and secondary schools in the United States. Increases such percentage from 5 to 40 percent by 1982.

While the law is promoted as committing to ramp up the Federal contribution to 40%, congress only committed themselves to a “maximum” of 40%.

Mr. Obama isn’t the first to acknowledge that we have not lived up to our obligation, our commitment. For example, House Resolution 976 in 2001 was the “IDEA Keeping Our Commitment Act of 2001” had the goal “To authorize appropriations for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to achieve full funding in fiscal year 2002 and fiscal year 2003, and for other purposes.” It died in committee. As did the “Keeping Our Promises to Special Education Act of 2001″ or the “Keep Our PACT Act” or the “IDEA Full Funding Act” and many other attempts to fulfill the promise.

So congress made the commitment but they gave themselves the ability to dodge that commitment. Many, including President Obama, have recognized that a promise is a promise. They recognize that congress’ stated goal 37 years ago was “A bill to provide financial assistance to the States for improved educational services for handicapped children”. From Mr. Obama’s campaign platform quoted above:

Fully Funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: Barack Obama has been a strong and consistent advocate for fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Congress promised to shoulder 40 percent of each state’s “excess cost” of educating children with disabilities, but it has never lived up to this obligation.

With the budget for the final year of Mr. Obama’s first term submitted, we as a people are still not living up to the promise, the obligation. Mr. Obama included a one-time boost for special education in the economic stimulus package. While this is highly disappointing, the sad fact is that should Mr. Obama not be re-elected, the chances for fully-funded special education will be even worse.

NCD Meets with Secretary Duncan on Forthcoming No Child Left Behind Waivers

20 Sep

The National Council on Disability (NCD) advices the U.S. government on many areas, including civil rights, diversity, employment, housing and education. The NCD has sent a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, on the subject of “No Child Left Behind” and waivers which allow schools to “shield” some children from the standards of NCLB.

The full letter can be found here.

NCD Meets with Secretary Duncan on Forthcoming No Child Left Behind Waivers

Following a meeting with U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Monday, the National Council on Disability (NCD) sent the following letter to the Secretary, outlining policy recommendations for the NCLB waiver process:

September 19, 2011

The Honorable Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20202

Dear Secretary Duncan:

It was a pleasure meeting with you and your senior staff to discuss priorities for students with disabilities within the forthcoming waiver applications for state flexibility under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) amendments to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. I’m writing as follow up providing you with a number of policy proposals we are putting forward to ensure that the significant progress that students with disabilities have made under No Child Left Behind is not lost as the Department pursues a waiver process. While the achievement gap between students with and without disabilities is still wide, No Child Left Behind’s disaggregation of data and requirement that schools make Adequate Yearly Progress for each subgroup of students has been a critical driver of reform.

We support the “flexibility for reform” model the Department has put forward in its vision for the waiver process. Having said that, it is imperative that the Department consider the needs of students with disabilities both with regards to what it should and should not provide in flexibility from NCLB’s accountability provisions and what it should require states and school districts to offer in return for the aforementioned flexibility.

With regards to flexibility, we urge the Department to ensure that the following provisions of NCLB are not eliminated or weakened through the waiver process:

Maintain NCLB’s requirement to disaggregate data and ensure a 95% participation rate in state assessments, disaggregated by subgroup population;
Maintain accountability for the Students with Disabilities subgroup and avoid the creation of additional rules allowing states and districts to shield certain populations of students from assessment; and
Maintain NCLB’s teacher quality provisions, particularly the requirement that special education teachers be highly qualified in any content area in which they provide direct instruction;

With regards to reform, we urge the Department to ensure that closing the achievement gap faced by students with disabilities is given sufficient emphasis through incorporating reform provisions which specifically relate to this population. As such, we encourage the Department to consider the following proposals for inclusion in the waiver process:

Eliminate the 2% rule allowing states and school districts to shield 2% of all students from their accountability systems through the use of modified assessments;
Reform the 1% rule to ensure that students who take the alternative assessment must first be assessed for and have access to Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) technology;
Require states applying for waiver flexibility to instruct Local Education Agencies (LEA) to create an additional sub-group for the purposes of disaggregation of data when a sufficient numbers of students within an LEA fall into multiple sub-groups (i.e.: African-American students with disabilities, low-income students with disabilities, etc.);
Require states applying for waiver flexibility to set goals for increasing students with disabilities’ access to the general education classroom (as measured through IDEA State Performance Plan Indicator 5a); and
Require states to increase their use of research-validated educational methodologies, such as Universal Design for Learning and Response to Intervention;

NCLB has been a source of tremendous progress for students with disabilities, and we believe that if properly constructed, the waiver process can drive similar reform. We urge you to ensure that closing the achievement gap for students with disabilities is as great an area of emphasis for the Department as closing the achievement gaps faced by other minority groups. To quote from NCD’s 2008 report The No Child Left Behind Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Act: A Progress Report, “Teachers, administrators, and the community are becoming aware of what students with disabilities are capable of achieving if they are held to high standards and expectations .”

NCD’s Policy and Program Evaluation Committee Chair Ari Ne’eman stands ready to work with you and your staff on these matters. He can be reached at aneeman@ncd.gov or at our office phone number at 202-272-2004. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Jonathan M. Young, J.D., Ph.D.
Chairman, National Council on Disability

Sacramento County Schools “See” The Invisible Epidemic

5 Sep

At the end of this past week, California’s Sacramento Bee reports that “Autism rates quadruple in local schools over last decade“. The article, written by Phillip Reese, seems largely unremarkable. Even though headline is suggestive, there are no claims of “autism epidemic” that follow. In fact, Reese points out that:

Whether autism is actually more prevalent — as opposed to just more frequently diagnosed — is a matter of controversy.

From a scientific perspective, Reese definitely could have dug a lot deeper, but to a casual reader, the relevant facts seem pretty accurate, and a clear chart is provided.

The problem with an article like this, is that to a casual reader it may appear that there doesn’t seem to be any explanation in sight. “Autism is on the increase in Sacramento County Schools for the past decade”, and that’s that – “Why” is some sort of “controversy”, “some districts have more autistic students than others”, “here’s a chart”, and the article ends.

Did the Sacramento Bee miss an opportunity to carry their headline further, and expose an acutal “autism epidemic” in northern California schools?

Not surprisingly, Age Of Autism (always on the lookout for support of the notion that there’s been an autism “epidemic”) thought so. As it turns out, AoA resisted the urge to dig much deeper too. They were apparently satisfied to present a simple retort to the indication that whether or autism is actually more prevalent or more frequently diagnosed is “controversial”.

Seems the SacBee hasn’t read the study from their own state U that said, A study by researchers at the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute has found that the seven- to eight-fold increase in the number children born in California with autism since 1990 cannot be explained by either changes in how the condition is diagnosed or counted – and the trend shows no sign of abating.

Emphasis AoA’s.

If you think the emapahsized quote above sounds more like a press release than an acutal study, you’d be correct. Does the quoted press release overstate the actual conclusions of the study?

I’ll let readers be the judge of that, here’s the actual study’s conclusion:

Autism incidence in California shows no sign yet of plateauing. Younger ages at diagnosis, differential migration, changesin diagnostic criteria, and inclusion of milder cases do not fully explain the observed increases. Other artifacts have yet to be quantified, and as a result, the extent to which the continued rise represents a true increase in the occurrence of autism remains unclear.

Emphasis mine.

As foreshadowed for us in the conclusion of the actual study, what other artifacts might there be, that have “yet to be quantified”? Big ones like changes in awareness or diagnostic substitution?

Let’s quantify one of those potential artifacts (diagnostic substitution) for the Sacramento County Schools data, shall we?

Here’s the data (available online to the public):

To sum things up, I think Reese’s article/blurb would have been more interesting, only requiring a few extra minutes (the data is already there, presented on the same page when looking up the autism numbers), if it had included information about other changes like the “more than offsetting decrease” of Specific Learning Disabilities over the same time period.

Tell us what you think? Could newspapers do better when reporting on autism data, or do they simply present what their readers are really looking for?

Additional reading on this subject:

California’s Invisible Autism Epidemic (Jan 2009)

California’s Invisible Autism Epidemic Continues (Feb 2010)

California’s Specific Learning Disabilities Counter Epidemic (Feb 2011)