Elon Musk and Vernon Jones asked for advice. Here goes!

Dear Mr. Musk and Mr. Jones,

Amazingly — as I’ve been watching and reading the news, it turns out that both of you have asked for similar advice! So, I hope it’s alright that I’m addressing you together. You want to know how to spend money and promote ideas and policies that will move the needle forward and make a real positive difference for our nation. Thank you for that question and invitation, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, and Vernon Jones, Georgia state representative.

For half a century, I’ve focused on education — first as a teacher, then as a school attorney, and now as a reformer and writer. I’ve learned a few things that I’d like to share — most pivotally, that education is the vital key to maintaining our nation and democracy and that we are failing so many of our students and our nation. As an immigrant English-language learner in 4th grade, I experienced how wonderful public schools can be — they were for me. But now, so many of our students are failing and losing out on the opportunities our nation holds for them — especially students in poverty, minority students, English language learners, many students with disabilities, and many other vulnerable groups. Gaps between those students and others are widening. The pandemic has made the situation worse — even dire.

Yet, in our centers of power in Washington and elsewhere, responses to crises generally involve creating new programs or funding current (often failing) ones.

My solution? Let’s look at the research before we jump in. It tells us to work with families at home. Work with moms, dads, grandparents, and other caretakers with children aged 0 to 5. Our solution to school failures and widening gaps among students lies in helping children before they get to kindergarten. Because many children come to school unprepared to learn, let’s do the right thing. Let’s be guided by efficacy and research before we create new programs or throw more good money after bad.

Research supports the benefits of a more direct (and undoubtedly less costly) approach. In the field of education, it makes sense to pay attention to a child’s home situation when he or she comes to school unprepared. Home is where the child’s first teachers live and is the most practical place to start preparing children for the social and educational experiences they will have in school. Home is where children’s educations begin with their parents and caregivers — especially in the vital area of language acquisition. From there, their education can branch out to daycare centers, preschools, or schools. As I see it, education does not start with an institution — other than the institution of home with family.

I suggest that we start in the home because powerful research supports the efficacy of this approach. In 1995, Professors Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley turned early-childhood education on its head with their report, Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young American Children. Frustrated by their experience with programs that had no lasting effect on children’s language and growth, they sought a different route. Hart and Risley tracked verbal interactions in forty-two “well-functioning” families of infants and their parents in different socioeconomic situations — children whose parents were middle class/ professional, or lower/working class, or on welfare. Once every month until the children in the study reached age three, the researchers visited their homes, counting the number of words the children experienced.

They discovered that the numbers in the different groups varied widely, creating the now famous “30-million-word gap.” That is, children whose parents were on welfare heard and processed a reported 30 million fewer words in the first three years of life than did children of professional parents. I remember President Obama referring to this research in his speeches.

Even if that oft-cited number is too high, and even if other researchers have questioned this study (as they have), the essential message was astounding back in 1995 and still resonates today: education begins with children’s first teachers at home! The early life experiences of many children from lower-class or welfare families often does not prepare them to be “ready to learn.” Once in school, many of these children fall further and further behind. We know that if a child does not read by third grade, that child is more likely not to complete K-12 education. Some of these children enter the special-education system as students with disabilities, especially children in the categories of students with learning, speech or language disabilities (which comprise close to 60 percent of all students with disabilities served by the law). The bottom line: The importance of early-language acquisition at home cannot be overstated, especially as we know that early gaps continue into the school years. See, for example, Jessica Lahey, “Poor Kids and the Word Gap,” The Atlantic, October 16, 2014, http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/10/american-kids-are-starving-for-words/381552/

Given this reality, I am troubled that too often the push for early-childhood education circles back to the earlier, often disappointing institutional programs outside the home! Please help us here! Please use your creativity and clout to lead us to better ways.

Where is evidence that creating new programs will be effective on a large scale? See the long history of inconclusive evidence for the effectiveness of Head Start, a federally funded program, and similar programs. Of course, there are gems of schools — public and private, regular and charter, but they are not scaled to large systems.

The Economist’s “In the Beginning Was the Word” echoes this caution:

In January (2014), Barack Obama urged Congress and state governments to make high-quality pre-schools available to every four-year-old…That is a good thing. Pre-school programmes are known to develop children’s numeracy, social skills and (as the term “pre-school” suggests) readiness for school. But they do not deal with the [language] gap in much earlier development that [research has] identified. And it is this gap, more than a year’s pre-schooling at the age of four, which seems to determine a child’s chances for the rest of his life.”

Feb. 22, 2014, http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21596923-how-babbling-babies-can-boost-their-brains-beginning-was-word

Why do we not, instead, follow the research and good practices on language development and pursue the direct avenue at home? Why do we not proactively work with parents and children in the first place? If parents do not realize how important their role can be, let us take this opportunity — and duty — to share with them the value of talking with, reading to, playing and singing with their babies. The key is to talk, read, and sing!

Pockets of promising efforts are currently under way. We need far more. Here are some samples of programs for families of children up to five years of age.

· A program in Providence, Rhode Island, called “Providence Talks” sends trained visitors into homes to do what is described above. Home — Providence Talks.

· Too Small to Fail’s “Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing.” Too Small To Fail

· California’s “First 5,” a state initiative enrolling parents and caregivers in research-supported practices; First 5 California — State Site.

· Zero to Three. Home • ZERO TO THREE.

· Start Early, formerly An Ounce of Prevention; Homepage | Start Early.

An ounce of prevention, indeed! In order to ensure equity for young children, we need to scale these in-home efforts toward national policy to help parents be as good at teaching as they can be. They can then send their children to school ready to learn, often without a need for any disability label.

Mr. Musk and Jones. You are both amazingly creative. Help us help our children and our nation! Let’s talk! Perhaps you/we can create prizes for parents and caregivers who are “doing the right thing” for their children. We need to be positive and encouraging. We need to find heroes at home! Prizes? Perhaps a ride in a space ship or in a Tesla?! Let’s honor and reward and encourage people. Together, we need to end the “opportunity gaps” that now thwart the lives of so many little kids — before they even start!

Mr. Musk and Mr. Jones, please help us here! I for one — and many others — stand ready to work with you on this vital crucial effort.

Thanks for reading,

All the best,

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, JD, MA

This was originally posted on Medium

School crossing signs. See US in bottom right corner!

This was originally posted on Medium

Many, many thoughtful and concerned people are asking this vital question. Let me set my thoughts –as of right now. I’ll write more about this, of course.

Here’s today’s conversation starter.

Today’s headlines tell us two very critical and disturbing facts about our public schools.

First, that student enrollment is down — across the board, with special declines at kindergarten levels. Parents are not sending their children to school. They are seeking and creating other options for them.

Second, that funding for public education is far down. All those businesses that were forced to close because of the pandemic, all the stay-at-home orders are leading to less tax revenue — in fact, many businesses are, instead of contributing to the general funds, receiving funds from public sources. As a result, funding for public schools is less available. And… pre-pandemic, there was already some movement toward less support for public schools CITE! For all children.

So in this time of turmoil, what is happening in special education? Special education is the federal program for students with disabilities that started in 1975 at the federal level with the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). Today, that law provides services for some 14% of US students. The costs? It’s hard to estimate, as, to date, Congress has not demanded an accounting. So, by estimates, the costs for special education services are around 21% of school budgets and for educating students with disabilities — accounting for both the general and special education services they receive –are estimated at 40% of school budgets. Think about that!

Yet, even in these dire times, it appears that special education lawsuits continue and that bureaucratic requirements have not budged. A brief discussion with a data analyst revealed that nothing has changed — the same numbers are still being crunched as in pre-pandemic days. As well, my quick informal inquiry about the two types of lawsuits that are typically being brought now illustrates for me the essence of our overwhelming challenge: Whither special education after the pandemic?

The first type of lawsuit grows out of the reality that many school districts now serve only the neediest students in person — while keeping most students are remote. Not surprisingly, parents of children with milder needs are bringing claims to have their child in school also — claiming that the child is more disabled than the district had determined.

The second type of lawsuit concerns compensatory education — the lawsuits we’ve been expecting. Such lawsuits attempt to make up for lost services and lost skills and knowledge during the pandemic. It is clear beyond doubt that many students with disabilities have suffered learning loss and that many services were not provided. Undoubtedly true. Therefore, these are generally claims that will prevail!

But, a fact overlooked too often in our discussions about special education, is that such types of loss are also true for many general education students, especially poor, non-English speakers, homeless, etc. Yet, only students with IEPs are entitled by law to compensatory education. Phyllis Wolfram, the executive director of CASE — the Council of Administrators of Special Education — warns that if we pay all compensatory services that may be owed to students with disabilities, “It would break the system of public education.” Think about that! Is that what we want for any or all of our children?

What is the essence I cited above? Special education, the law of rights through the labeling of a small group of students as entitled under that law — can expect that group to ever expand until the system breaks down. As I see it, we are there now.

In many ways, the law of good intentions has grown beyond recognition since 1975 — and become ever more expansive in terms of the student labels that it now includes, costly, complex — and I daresay, intrusive on the continued effective functioning for our schools for all students.

What to do instead? I suggest we return to a sensible program by acknowledging the obvious. Even during this pandemic, many school districts acknowledged that there are in essence, two groups of students with disabilities –those with mild/moderate needs (who make up 80–90% of the students covered by this law, and those with profound/severe needs (who make up 10–20% of the students covered by this law). Schools have started to serve this latter, smaller group in person. This division also tracks the 2017 Supreme Court decision, Endrew F. v Douglas County. We do have two distinct groups of students with disabilities — now served under this one law. The fit is not great. We need to do something about that!

I believe that we should consider that the vast majority of students with disabilities with mild and moderate needs, and general education students, need schools to more than ever — provide better general education. Better teaching. More focused lessons. Personalized as needed. These students need education more than they need “special” education.

Luckily, we have some superb models. Please check out competency based education, as practiced in Westminster Colorado. — Where Education is Personal. https://www.westminsterpublicschools.org/cbswps. And see, in general, the Aurora Institute. https://aurora-institute.org/our-work/competencyworks/competency-based-education/

Another model is the reading contract — whereby schools promise to get everyone to read and to keep at it until success is achieved. Please check out Nate Levenson’s work and his new book, Six Shifts to Improve Special Education. Since most students with mild or moderate disabilities enter the system because they did not learn to read, this approach is promising. Be direct. Teach reading!

There are many other promising models and fabulous professionals working across our nation for all students. They need our support. As I see it, the special education law should no longer include these students as the system has become dysfunctional — and is not even helpful for the students it seeks to help. See, for example, the fact that labeling a student in order to serve him — is not helpful — in fact, damaging to many. It’s time for them, as well as all students to get the best general education services possible. See, for example, Kalman Hettleman’s writings. https://www.baltimoresun.com/opinion/op-ed/bs-ed-op-0326-special-education-20190320-story.html

For the 10–20% of students with severe or profound needs — yes, our society owes them an appropriate education. Perhaps a task force of all stakeholders can develop a better way forward — that focuses on appropriate education more than compliance or legal procedures.

If we don’t fix this, I see our public schools imperiled. We’ll see more parents exit. We’ll see less public support for public education. Already, those trends have started. Ultimately, my fear is that broken policies that keep on keeping on and don’t focus on ALL students will leave our public schools evermore for the have nots. Such a development would be tragic — as public education is the backbone of our democratic republic. We need a new model that will make the current one obsolete, to quote Buckminster Fuller. I’ve set out one controversial path. What is your path?

As a passionate supporter of public education, I see the pandemic as the opportunity to finally fix our very broken system and build schools that can work for all students. Our nation needs that now more than ever.

After the pandemic: whither special education? What do you think? Your thoughts? Your plan? Your suggestion? I’d love to hear!

This was originally posted on Medium

In this PANDEMIC, let’s be honest — sometimes ART can bring a smile to our faces. How about, medicine bottle art! I hope it brings you a smile!

During this pandemic, we need to be creative! Alas, during this pandemic, we also accumulate many medicine bottles — both at home and among my friends and colleagues. Since I like to “make lemonade out of lemons”, I set out to create Medicine Bottle COVID Art! Walks on the beach in Half Moon Bay give me the shells — whole and broken, driftwood, and the silver dollars you see in these pieces. And walks on the streets give me nuts and bolts and assorted treasures. Check them out in these Medicine Bottle COVID Art pieces.

I’d love to hear what you think of them.

— Pandemic Seascape — inspired by Half Moon Bay

— “To your health” vase with sea shells

— Hawaiian Sun Rays Frame

— Menorah for the age of COVID

Check out those eashells and bolts…collected on my walks on the beach and in town.

— Lovely orange vase # 1 with seashells on driftwood

More to come….

— Mirror with palms that hangs in our bathroom

— Time to climb Health Mountain — time to climb!

Don’t you love that beautiful blue bottle!

— Orange vase # 2 on beach driftwood

— Welcome to the City of Health

— Relaxing in The City of Health (close-up)

Our friend Dave Wilson took many of these photos. Thanks, Dave! Much appreciated.

Enjoy! I hope they bring a smile to your face.

Miriam

This was originally posted on Medium

Bureaucracy and Leadership — what I’m learning at the Peter Drucker Forum 2020.

It’s been a long time since I wrote…. The pandemic and some health issues got in the way. Now I’m back! Thanks for staying with me.

I have always believed that it can be useful to attend a conference that is NOT in one’s field. You never know what you’ll learn!

With that in mind, I’ve been attending a conference in Vienna, Austria — alas, virtually. I’m sitting in my own kitchen, sipping my coffee alone — not in a breakout meet and greet. While I wish the conference was actually in Europe — it is not this year. Maybe next?

The conference is the 12th Global Peter Drucker Forum 2020. Peter Drucker was the American-Austrian management guru who spanned the 20th century (1900–2005). The conference in his honor is filled and with amazing folks from around the world — CEO’s, international companies, business school professors, consultants, authors, thought leaders, musicians, etc. You get the picture.

So what am I doing there? I work in the US public schools — as an attorney who represents public schools and formerly as a junior high school teacher. I’m not a business person. I don’t run a company. And, as I looked at those ZOOM boxes that traversed the globe, I didn’t see anyone from the US public school space — except me.

Yet, it’s been wonderful, enlightening, and fun. As I listen to the presentations and even participate in the chat room, it dawned on me that so many of the issues and challenges raised here are easily transposed to the K-12 public education arena. Can it be that large organizations have universal challenges and needs? It appears so.

Take the title for the conference’s first day: Dismantling Bureaucracy, Activating Leaders. I can relate that to our arena and leave as is, or change one word: Dismantling Bureaucracy, Activating Leaders or — a new word, Activating Learning.

Bureaucracy raises similar issues in these two worlds. We in K-12 education also are trying to dismantle the bureaucracy that smothers educators and administrators, that has a life of its own (can one really say that it ispurpose-driven?), and keeps on keeping on, unabated even during COVID! I heard one expression that laid out the challenge: “Bureaucracies are built to be replication machines.” So true, but that can’t possibly continue in the time of COVID. And yet, bureaucracies are still here doing their thing — in our schools, in business, and in large multinational organizations.

I heard discussions about the overriding need for trust, the need for purpose-driven policies, for empowering employees and customers (read: teachers and students), the need to “stop paying for activities and start to focus on outcomes.” I love this last one! And I love this one: “Empowerment without trust doesn’t work.” We talk about it all the time in our schools. Same issues seeking solutions. We can learn from each other.

Is there any hope? I do think so. Just putting the issues out there — is an important start and I was gratified to realize how many of these business ideas resonated with me, coming from the public sector.

The second and third days (tomorrow) were entitled Leadership Everywhere. For sure, we need leaders in public education to deal with today’s challenges — COVID, closed or opened schools, children falling behind, social and emotional needs, teachers reluctant to teach in schools, declining enrollments as parents pull their children out and try alternate means of education, and declining resources — as the tax base has been decimated by closed businesses, folks not traveling, etc., etc., etc. It’s overwhelming! Schools (and businesses) will have to deliver more with less.

Sessions included Leadership in Hard Times, Is Leadership Rising to the Occasion?, Led by Data, Algorithms, and AI?, and Leading in Times of Fake News, Activism and Rebellion. You get the picture. They are relevant to the business world — and also to our schools.

Attending a conference in a field far removed from mine is both fun and eye-opening. One quickly realizes that people are people all over the world and that organizations often struggle in similar ways. They can learn from each other. It’s been great to see what the rest of the world worries about. What amazed me is that our challenges and solutions track each other so much.

Is there hope? Will we find the leaders we need? I heard much optimism and believe that we will find ways forward. The current moment is an opportunity for new ideas and new paths — and there are many out there. Having music along for the ride helped. A cite to Les Miserables with its revolutionary songs was inspiring!

Let’s hope that together — in whatever field one works — our future will be bright, purpose-driven, with trust and empowered participants — creating a better life for the world’s citizens. In short, as discussed in one of the sessions quoting Ghandi, let’s hope that we can Be the change you want to see.

This was originally posted on Medium

On March 19 — at the start of this corona virus pandemic which seems lightyears ago — I published a few of my medicine bottle art items — hoping they’ll bring a smile to your face. People liked them! So here are a few more.

— Hawaiian Sun Rays

— A menorah for COVID days

A lovely vase with seashells on driftwood

Palms with mirror….

— And finally, it’s time to Climb Health Mountain!

Are you smiling yet? I hope so!

Here are the photos sent in March….Our friend Dave Wilson took many of these photos. Thanks, Dave! Much appreciated.

This was originally posted on Medium

Getty Images/Tomwang112

Anne DelfosseMiriam Kurtzig Freedman

6.17.2020

This spring’s school closures have challenged us to look at many things differently and to be open-minded, creative, and brave about moving toward necessary change. As we consider reopening schools in the fall, let’s hold on to that mindset and ask what should special education become? Does the forty-five-year-old federal law (IDEA) need a thorough redo? We believe it does.

There is much to celebrate about all that public schools now provide for students with disabilities. We’ve certainly come a long way since 1975, when the law was enacted. Yet, especially as this crisis has revealed, special ed’s plethora of services, costs, and procedures have produced unintended consequences and missed opportunities.

At the start of the closures, Philip Howard’s USA Today discussion of cumbersome regulations included this: “Schools are a hornet’s nest of legal rules. Soon after New Jersey closed its schools…a parent of a special education student complained that it violated his rights.”

The parent was surely right. The closure also violated the “rights” of innumerable other students, with and without disabilities. Yet this parent was onto a key feature of our current quandary: While other students may have a theoretical “right” to an education, his child has a statutorily enforceable and uncapped entitlement! The crisis lays bare this difference.

Nationally, about 14 percent of today’s students — identified as disabled — are entitled by federal law to a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE). Nobody else is. Having an entitlement is a big deal because it ensures that a government program will provide eligible recipients (here, students with disabilities and their parents) with a specific set of services, rights, and other benefits — no matter the circumstances, school budget constraints, or what their peers get.

Now more than ever, this entitlement challenges schools. The national coronavirus crisis turned upside down the education of more than 50 million public school students, including 7 million with disabilities. Educators, students, and parents have struggled on a steep learning curve relative to distance learning, virtual classrooms, etc.

How can schools provide a FAPE for some while trying to innovate for all students? How are they supposed to implement burdensome special-ed regulations, including timelines and meetings, always working under the fear of litigation, during this trying period? Even before the crisis, special ed teachers spent much time on meeting bureaucratic requirements, leaving a reported 27 percent of their time for actual instruction. Many chose to leave the profession. One can only wonder what the crisis has been doing to teachers.

When schools reopen, we can expect that most students will have regressed in academics and other skills. (If they don’t, why have schools?) Schools will face this challenging reality as they work to support all students to catch them up and help them learn anew. Despite this reality, however, only special education students will be able to assert legal rights and file due process claims against their schools for compensatory services to make up for any regression, to say nothing of complaints for missed timelines, services, and other requirements. Schools expect a barrage of such claims.

Really? Yes, under current law.

Notably, special education is the only entitlement program in our public schools — rights that are enforceable through due process hearings and in court. Since 1975, Congress has wisely chosen not to create new entitlement programs in the K–12 realm.

Who are these students? The law was written to provide access to public education for students with severe and profound needs. Today, however, estimates are that those children make up only 10 to 20 percent of the students enrolled in special ed. The vast majority (estimated at 80 to 90 percent) of today’s students with disabilities have mild or moderate needs. They are educated mostly in general education classrooms. Yet the law, rights, and regulatory requirements for these two very different groups are the same.

In 2001, writing in Rethinking Special Education for a New Century, Tyce Palmaffy posed a key question: “The question of why learning disabled children are more deserving of extra help than everyday low achievers is one that LD advocates have never quite answered.” Nor has it been answered nineteen years later.

It’s also time to ask: Do students with full access to public education still need “protections”? And what about the law’s opportunity costs? For example, how can America’s prosperity and leadership position continue when so many other students, including advanced students, are underserved? How can we get teachers to focus on instruction instead of compliance? How can schools better spend scarce resources?

Yet the special education beat goes on. Even during this crisis, school administrators and attorneys spend inordinate amounts of time and effort on how to provide for special education students and how to comply with legal mandates when other students get far less than they should. Parents of special education students spend effort, often with great anxiety, to “fight” for their child against their public school, which the current statutory arrangement reinforces. These dysfunctional responses cannot be what the good folks who wrote this law had in mind.

This civil rights law was designed to provide individually-planned access to public education for students with disabilities — not to create a semi-separate system serving one subset of students. Regarding compensatory services for students with mild or moderate needs, if their parents, advocates, and attorneys prevail in demands for special services while their classmates do not receive any, how is that fair, equitable, or wise? It is not — and it’s not what this law intended. If and when that happens, public support for special education will surely decline. Most people understand crisis, fairness, and its opposite. Be careful what you wish for.

When this crisis abates, our world will look very different. The crisis has shed a bright light on many failings of American education, including inequalities, one of which is the inequitable distribution of rights and entitlements to education.

What to do? For starters, we believe it’s time to divide the special education student body into two very different groups: the far larger group of students who have mild and moderate needs and are mostly educated in general education classrooms and the smaller group who have profound and severe needs. In so doing, we take guidance from the Supreme Court’s 2017 decision, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. The Court highlighted the reality of two different groups of students with disabilities — those who are pursuing general education goals and those, generally with severe or profound needs, whose education is individualized according to their circumstances.

For the larger group, the entitlement has completed its mission of providing access to education and should end (or be capped or otherwise limited), especially as it has also become increasingly dysfunctional and has brought great opportunity costs. Instead, it is time to build appropriate systems for these students within one interconnecting mechanism referred to as “general education.” Students with mild or moderate needs should be served through quality, individualized regular education — as should all other students. Dispute-resolution avenues should be provided for all students.

Some may argue that, rather than extracting some students from an entitlement, all students should have one. We disagree. The last thing we need is more lawyers, lawsuits, regulations, and bureaucrats running our schools.

For the smaller group of students with more severe and complex needs, it’s time for a thoughtful taskforce to propose how to proceed. Should these students retain an entitlement, or is another approach to ensure services more appropriate? Should the law mandate that other social service agencies step up to serve students who often have complex and costly needs? Should their education remain a school district responsibility, or should the state, through other agencies, become a mandated partner?

In short, special education claims and rights that go beyond reasonableness and fairness, all exacerbated by this crisis, face us squarely. We can no longer ignore them. They present the opportunity to question the continuing need for the forty-five-year-old entitlement for millions of students with mild or moderate needs and to work to establish a better way forward for students with severe and profound needs.

When schools reopen, maybe, just maybe, we will finally confront the fact that it’s time to end or limit the entitlement for many students with disabilities and devise a system that is leaner, rational, equitable, and more effective for all students. It’s time to build anew.

Anne Delfosse is a speech pathologist and former special education administrator. She has served students with disabilities, their families, and professional teams for forty-two years. Currently, she works as a consultant, mentor, and coach to professional educators.

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman is an experienced school attorney, author, and reformer. Her most recent reform book is Special Education 2.0 — Breaking Taboos the Build a NEW Education Law. For more information, please visit SchoolLawPro.com.

© 2018 The Thomas B. Fordham Institute

This was originally posted on Medium

Breaking News: On May 11, 2020, the Los Angeles Times reported that the University of California President recommended that the SAT be suspended for U C admissions. That is huge! Undoubtedly, as the U C goes, so will the nation.

Yet for some of us SAT-watchers, it was not “breaking” news. We have watched the SAT over the last many years slowly destroy itself as the testing gold standard. Let’s call it a self-induced suicide (an oxymoron, undoubtedly).

Sadly, as I see it, the SAT, which is used all over the world, has lost the right to call itself the gold standard in testing — a benchmark that is valid and reliable. A valid and reliable test is one that measures what it purports to measure and reports scores that others can rely on. There may have been a time when, if the SAT says it — then it is so. But, that seems to have ended a while ago. While the LA Times does not cite the lack of validity or reliability of scores, my sense is that the long sad saga that got us here has been part of the woodwork for a while. In short, these scores no longer are what they purport to be.

I see three main reasons for this decline. Most importantly, the test prep and the accommodations industries; and also, the slow drip of errors by the College Board, which sponsors the SAT, along the way.

First. The test prep industry. A bit of history.

The test prep industry was not always there. The SAT was developed in 1926 as an aptitude test to encourage and promote testing by students who may have been diamonds in the rough — underprivileged students who did not attend fancy schools or live in fancy homes. Like my immigrant brother, who scored 800 in math on the SAT in the 1960’s — a fact that changed his life. Over the SAT’s almost 100 years, we’ve come a long way from its initial purpose. It no longer tests “aptitude.” Instead, its goal is to predict freshman year grades in college.

NPR reported, “SAT prep was born in a Brooklyn basement in 1938, when Stanley H. Kaplan began tutoring students on how to prepare for standardized tests. Word spread, and soon students began arriving from all over the country to learn techniques for passing standardized tests. In the early 1970s, Kaplan expanded his business…., opening 70 centers by 1975. The Washington Post Company — owners of The Washington Post — bought the company from Kaplan in 1985.”

“SAT prep was big business, and…Kaplan Educational Centers, would become the largest such operation in the nation. Another company, The Princeton Review, was growing as well. Like Kaplan had in 1938, John Katzman began his company by tutoring a handful of New York students after he graduated college in 1981.”

There are other companies in the test-prep business and “[m]illions of students have spent have spent millions of dollars preparing for the SAT.”

For full article, please visit: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/sats/test/history.html

For a long time, the College Board vigorously maintained that one can’t prepare for the SAT,students and parents who could afford to do so, doled out lots of money for test prep told another story. Other students were left behind. Eventually, even the College Board had to acknowledge that some students’ scores improved with test prep, and teamed up with Khan Academy to develop test prep material.

So what do today’s scores actually mean? Are they valid and reliable?

Second. The accommodations industry. In 2002, the College Board made a fateful decision — to stop ‘flagging’ test reports of students with disabilities who took the test under nonstandard conditions. Soon thereafter, the ACT followed suit. See my 2003 story about this decision at https://www.educationnext.org/disablingthesat/

The flag was designed to give score readers (such as college admissions officers) notice that the test had been given with extra time or other accommodations/ modifications. Therefore, the scores needed to be read with care as they were no longer standardized. Since the test was normed as a timed test, extra time modified its validity standards. Amazingly, ending the flags meant that nobody was notified of that fact. Slowly, over the years, the numbers of students taking the test with 50% or 75% or more time grew from 2% to close to 5%. And, quite predictably, most students who used extra time were vying for the small sliver of selective college seats. We began to see that the affluent used this avenue far more than disadvantaged students; for example, we started to see reports that at some exclusive prep schools 40% of their students had extended time.

It’s fair to ask what today’s scores actually mean. Are they still valid and reliable?

Over the years, in these two ways, the shine on the gold standard test — also called a common yardstick — has worn off. Today’s test results need to be read carefully — with a whopping grain of salt. Do we really know what they mean? Are they still reliable predictors?

Third. Over the years, the College Board has been confronted with controversy. In 2005, it recalibrated the SAT and added a writing component. Later, it changed the scoring, even as recently, SAT scores have declined. At another point, it tried to neutralize advantages of males over females in test results — even as females turned out to be better college freshmen students, belying the SAT’s stated purpose. Recently, it toyed with adding an “adversity score” which it dropped after facing an avalanche of criticism. Controversy continued about flaws in the “new” SAT, as well as the College Board’s handling of scoring errors that affected 5000 students. All the while, the rise of “test optional” college continued.

Drip. Drip. Drip. Perhaps not surprising, for an almost 100-year-old test.

Thus, in reading that U C President Janet Napolitano recommended that the SAT be dropped from admissions decisions (at least on a trial basis), we SAT-watchers were not surprised.

The next big question will be — assuming we still have colleges with admissions criteria after the pandemic, how will their admissions officers admit students in the future? Will the focus be on academic excellence and preparation or will it slide to other societal goals? You’re invited to join us watchers. Stay tuned.

This was originally posted on Medium

Good for U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for working on proposals to Congress urging flexibility to implement the primary federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), during school closures caused by this pandemic. The CARES Act requires her to propose, within thirty days, IDEA provisions that should be waived, if any. Notably, and perhaps overlooked, is the fact that this effort is of great importance to many stakeholders, including the wider school community beyond special education. All general and special education students, teachers, administrators, and parents want schools to function as well as possible during this crisis. Secretary DeVos represents them all. But schools cannot “flex” without congressional action.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has issued guidance, acknowledging that there may be a need for flexibility in how special education is provided, consistent with the need for health and safety, adding “[W]here we can offer flexibility, we will.” This guidance does not have the force of law, nor does it inoculate schools from the threat of litigation.

In normal times, many IDEA regulations and requirements are burdensome, with compliance issues often leading to litigation and the fear of litigation. That’s far from ideal, but now is obviously not normal. As schools struggle to provide even minimal education for all students, including students with disabilities, they need freedom to function as best as they can.

In this unprecedented crisis, schools need targeted, specific, and temporary flexibility around IDEA requirements related to timelines, meeting attendance, assessments, eligibility findings, specific services delivery, report writing, and due process for claims generated during and by the current crisis. Without such flexibility, the fear of lawsuits remains and diverts the focus from education for all students. Of course, schools and parents are encouraged to work collaboratively and constructively-and many do. Yet even “good faith” efforts are subject to interpretation, which can lead to litigation.

Everyone knows that we’re in a national crisis that has turned the education of more than 50 million students-86 percent of whom are general education students-upside down. Many schools are closed with no learning or far less learning through online or other means going on, approaches that themselves raise equity challenges for children without internet access. Parents are encouraged to “home school” their children. We know that many students will lose skills and regress, and may develop other challenges, as well. Schools are in a most complicated, challenging, and endlessly exacerbating reality.

Congress should act to ease the quandary schools face without delay. Ironically, if Congress does not act now, when given the opportunity to do so, attorneys arguing cases after schools reopen can easily assert that Congress intended all regulations and requirements to be enforced-even during the pandemic! It’s time to get serious.

IDEA-now forty-five years old-provides students with disabilities with an individual entitlement to a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) to access and learn what the law calls “the general curriculum.” Among other rights, they are entitled to specialized instruction and individualized services that their parents can enforce through due process. The general curriculum is supposed to help all students gain academic, social, behavioral, and emotional knowledge and skills. Eighty to 90 percent of students with disabilities have mild or moderate needs and are mostly educated in general education classrooms. The other 10–20 percent of disabled students have severe or profound needs.

Special education, the only entitlement in our public schools, ensures that a government program provides eligible recipients (here, disabled students and their parents) with rights and other benefits-no matter the circumstances. Right now, my attorney colleagues who represent public schools are spending inordinate amounts of time and effort on the complexities that follow from that reality.

It should be understood that, in addition to the educational services that can be provided to special education students while schools are closed, many will require compensatory services after schools reopen. Well and good. Yet let’s keep in mind that almost no students will make as much progress while schools are closed as they would when attending school. (Else why have schools?) However, as stated above, special education students have due process rights to assert those claims. Others don’t.

Claims such as these highlight the need for Congress to mandate temporary flexibility so long as the general curriculum remains upended for all students. IDEA, the special education statute that provides students with disabilities with individualized services for learning and accessing the general curriculum-as the general curriculum is provided to all students-was built to ensure fairness and equity, not their absence.

Secretary Devos should urge Congress to protect schools and students, including students with disabilities, with sensible and temporary flexibility. Congress should enact them as a necessary bridge as quickly as possible. When schools reopen, we’ll have plenty of time to rethink next steps, including possible reform of this system. We may even learn something about how a suspension of procedures and other rights actually impacts students. But for now, extraordinary circumstances require an out-of-the-box approach. Congressional flexibility is a good first step.

Many stakeholders await the ED’s proposals-may they come swiftly!-and Congress’s prompt and sensible response.

This was originally posted on Medium

As just published by Fordham Institute! Please share with others!

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman

4.14.2020

Getty Images/Toshe_O

Good for U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for working on proposals to Congress urging flexibility to implement the primary federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), during school closures caused by this pandemic. The CARES Act requires her to propose, within thirty days, IDEA provisions that should be waived, if any. Notably, and perhaps overlooked, is the fact that this effort is of great importance to many stakeholders, including the wider school community beyond special education. All general and special education students, teachers, administrators, and parents want schools to function as well as possible during this crisis. Secretary DeVos represents them all. But schools cannot “flex” without congressional action.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has issued guidance, acknowledging that there may be a need for flexibility in how special education is provided, consistent with the need for health and safety, adding “[W]here we can offer flexibility, we will.” This guidance does not have the force of law, nor does it inoculate schools from the threat of litigation.

In normal times, many IDEA regulations and requirements are burdensome, with compliance issues often leading to litigation and the fear of litigation. That’s far from ideal, but now is obviously not normal. As schools struggle to provide even minimal education for all students, including students with disabilities, they need freedom to function as best as they can.

In this unprecedented crisis, schools need targeted, specific, and temporary flexibility around IDEA requirements related to timelines, meeting attendance, assessments, eligibility findings, specific services delivery, report writing, and due process for claims generated during and by the current crisis. Without such flexibility, the fear of lawsuits remains and diverts the focus from education for all students. Of course, schools and parents are encouraged to work collaboratively and constructively — and many do. Yet even “good faith” efforts are subject to interpretation, which can lead to litigation.

Everyone knows that we’re in a national crisis that has turned the education of more than 50 million students — 86 percent of whom are general education students — upside down. Many schools are closed with no learning or far less learning through online or other means going on, approaches that themselves raise equity challenges for children without internet access. Parents are encouraged to “home school” their children. We know that many students will lose skills and regress, and may develop other challenges, as well. Schools are in a most complicated, challenging, and endlessly exacerbating reality.

Congress should act to ease the quandary schools face without delay. Ironically, if Congress does not act now, when given the opportunity to do so, attorneys arguing cases after schools reopen can easily assert that Congress intended all regulations and requirements to be enforced — even during the pandemic! It’s time to get serious.

IDEA — now forty-five years old — provides students with disabilities with an individual entitlement to a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) to access and learn what the law calls “the general curriculum.” Among other rights, they are entitled to specialized instruction and individualized services that their parents can enforce through due process. The general curriculum is supposed to help all students gain academic, social, behavioral, and emotional knowledge and skills. Eighty to 90 percent of students with disabilities have mild or moderate needs and are mostly educated in general education classrooms. The other 10–20 percent of disabled students have severe or profound needs.

Special education, the only entitlement in our public schools, ensures that a government program provides eligible recipients (here, disabled students and their parents) with rights and other benefits — no matter the circumstances. Right now, my attorney colleagues who represent public schools are spending inordinate amounts of time and effort on the complexities that follow from that reality.

It should be understood that, in addition to the educational services that can be provided to special education students while schools are closed, many will require compensatory services after schools reopen. Well and good. Yet let’s keep in mind that almost no students will make as much progress while schools are closed as they would when attending school. (Else why have schools?) However, as stated above, special education students have due process rights to assert those claims. Others don’t.

Claims such as these highlight the need for Congress to mandate temporary flexibility so long as the general curriculum remains upended for all students. IDEA, the special education statute that provides students with disabilities with individualized services for learning and accessing the general curriculum — as the general curriculum is provided to all students — was built to ensure fairness and equity, not their absence.

Secretary Devos should urge Congress to protect schools and students, including students with disabilities, with sensible and temporary flexibility. Congress should enact them as a necessary bridge as quickly as possible. When schools reopen, we’ll have plenty of time to rethink next steps, including possible reform of this system. We may even learn something about how a suspension of procedures and other rights actually impacts students. But for now, extraordinary circumstances require an out-of-the-box approach. Congressional flexibility is a good first step.

Many stakeholders await the ED’s proposals — may they come swiftly! — and Congress’s prompt and sensible response.

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, JD, MA, is a school attorney, author, public education law expert, and speaker. Her latest book is Special Education 2.0 — Breaking Taboos the Build a NEW Education Law. For more information, please visit SchoolLawPro.com.

MIRIAM KURTZIG FREEDMAN4.14.2020

This was originally posted on Medium