Dear friends and colleagues,

Happy holidays!

I hope your holidays are joyous with family and friends and that we’ll share a wonderful new year of peace, prosperity, and meaningful education reforms. I’m staying put in California—if you make it to the Bay Area, let me know.

It’s a good time to review the work year and raise hopes for the new. Yes, I know we’re all super busy now but just maybe, maybe you’ll enjoy collecting reading ideas for the end-of-year break.

With that happy thought, here are three to consider.

First, if you haven’t shared my latest thought-provoking book with others yet or gotten your very own copy of Special Education 2.0—Breaking Taboos to Build a NEW Education Law, there’s still time! It’s available on Amazon and on my website, http://schoollawpro.com/store. It’s a great road map for reform and discussion starter. Let me know what you think.

Second, I’m happy to share that I was published in a law journal again—this time, about Endrew F., the 2017 Supreme Court decision setting out what a FAPE (free appropriate public education) is and what schools should provide for all students with disabilities. It’s is a counterpoint in the Journal of Law and Education, Volume 47 Number 4 Fall 2018. I’ve attached the PDF.

Fascinating stuff. Briefly, I argue that

• The Supremes did NOT raise the (FAPE) free appropriate public education standard.
• The Supremes acknowledged the two groups of students with disabilities—those with mild and moderate needs (making up about 80-90% ) and those with profound and severe needs. My loyal readers and fans know that I believe we need different legal procedures and systems for these two groups (more fully discussed in my book).
• The Court confirmed that in the IEP Team process, schools are the experts and parents provide input. It’s time that all Team members understand their unique and important roles, value everyone’s contribution to the Team, and thereby provide well for the child.
Third, have you discovered https://Medium.com ? It’s a fascinating free website—full of good writing—and it’s super easy to be published there. Check out my latest at https://medium.com/@miriamkfreedman/happy-birthday-special-education-its-time-for-a-real-redo-d541867d5fb2. When you add your thoughts to that website, please share. Give it a go!

Finally, if you’re in Los Angeles in February at the AASA (American Association of School Administrators) conference, let me know. I’ll be part of a round-table discussion there. And if you’re in the Boston area in May and want to participate in a reform event that may include a creative out-of-the-box game and other surprises, let me know. We’re starting to plan.

So, that’s my story and I’m sticking with it! What’s yours? Please share. Here’s to systemic and meaningful reform of special education. Come aboard! Let’s get it going in 2019!

Happy holidays!

Miriam

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, M.A., J.D.
School Law Pro
www.schoollawpro.com
miriam@schoollawpro.com

Schools, the law, and common sense!

Here’s the link….https://medium.com/@miriamkfreedman/happy-birthday-special-education-its-time-for-a-real-redo-d541867d5fb2

And here’sthe post.

On December 2, 1975—43 years ago, President Gerald Ford signed the special education law to end the exclusion of students with disabilities from schools. The law succeeded, even beyond its mission. We now educate all students with disabilities—some 6+ million—almost 14% of all students, while the law planned for 10% of students. Schools have created programs and done amazing work to provide for all sorts of learners. Parents participate actively. Many students benefit.
Yet Ford was reluctant to sign – he saw the flaws as well as the promise, and his worrisome predictions have also come to pass. The current system is still process (not outcomes)-focused and creates a bureaucratic stranglehold on schools and parents. Teachers drown in paperwork. Student outcomes remain largely unproven, and pervasive fear of litigation looms large. Often, trust between school and home is killed.
Let’s take this anniversary to reflect on the law’s past successes to propose a redo going forward. Consider–
–Special education students have changed over the 43 years so that today, 80-90% of them have mild or moderate needs. Ten-20% have severe or profound needs.
–Special education students and their parents have individual entitlements to due process and programming that no other public school groups have. An industry of lawyers (including me), advocates, bureaucrats, evaluators, and enforcers now service this costly, adversarial law. Ask a teacher or parent.
–Special education teachers spend most of their time on paperwork and bureaucratic requirements, leaving 27% for teaching. Yet, we blame schools for not “closing gaps.” Not surprisingly, many teachers leave the field, creating a special education teacher shortage.
–Curiously, the number of due process hearing decisions has declined. But why? In 2005-6, there were 5385 decisions; in 2011-2— 2262; in 2015-6—1990. Do school districts settle disputes to avoid costly litigation, are student needs being met, do schools and parents work better together, or is it something else? We need research to show us what’s working or not.
–The total cost for educating special education students is estimated at 40% of school budgets, leaving 60% for 86% of students. Is this good public policy? We spend 143 times more for the 6+ million students with disabilities than for the 3.2 million gifted and talented students. Ask a superintendent.
–Special education’s impact on schools is far-reaching, but largely lacks research support. Most of the 80-90% of students described above are in mainstreamed—also known as inclusive—classrooms. Often, the focus is on the location—in which classroom a student sits—not on learning outcomes. Standards and behavior issues (for all students, disabled or not) challenge schools. Lacking objective research about the effectiveness and effects of current practices on all students—disabled and not—how can we provide equitable for every student?
I believe that we need a redo. Yet, it’s been my sad experience that to raise questions about the current system is often deemed “anti-child” or “anti-rights” –none of which is true, as my purpose is always pro-public education for all students. Conversation ends before it begins.
Instead, we need open conversation to forge ahead and respond to current—not 43-year-old—reality. We need stakeholders of good will to come together to celebrate the law’s successes, confront current reality, and create a brand new law. That will take time.
So, for now, to mark this birthday, here are three promising nuggets that may hold keys for forward thinking and movement.
First — Student outcomes. I am drawn to programs that focus on all students— from the most needy to the most advanced. Check out competency based programs (CBE), like Westminster, Colorado’s, “where education is personal!” CBE creates early, individualized, and robust interventions in general education settings to naturally address student needs, and hopefully, prevent students from failing. Results are promising. Outcome-focused programs are a vital step forward.
Second—Resolve disputes without litigation. The use of mediation and other alternate-dispute resolution models are rising. See, for example, Massachusetts’ SpedEx model—a voluntary, child-centered, free, non-adversarial, trust-building approach. The parties work together with a consultant to develop the child’s program and resolve their dispute. Promoting dispute-resolution among pivotal adults—without resort to litigation—is a good step forward.
Third — Meet individual student needs. The unanimous 2017 Supreme Court decision, Endrew F. v. Douglas County, recognizes two groups of students with disabilities–and the learning needs each student has. For most students, robust programming, as described above, may be appropriate. For a smaller group, including the 10-20% of students with severe needs, more specialized instruction may be appropriate. 1975’s one size fits all law no longer does.
Change is hard. Very—especially and understandably here, as many stakeholders fear it—and as parts of the law work well. Yet, I’m optimistic. This is America—the land of innovators and problem-solvers. When we finally acknowledge that the 43-year-old system is broken in many pivotal ways, our can-do spirit will kick in. We’ll focus on learning outcomes for each and every student, disabled and not. We’ll rebuild and maintain the vitality of our public schools.
Starting with these three nuggets, let’s speak honestly to one another, think BIG, and build an effective and equitable second generation approach for all students.

Adapted from Miriam Kurtzig Freedman’s book, Special Education 2.0—Breaking Taboos to Build a NEW Education Law(2017). As a lawyer, Miriam represented public schools for many years, following her career as a teacher and hearing officer. As a reformer, she speaks to local and national audiences. Please visit her website: www.schoollawpro.com.

Here’s the Wall Street Journal article, https://www.wsj.com/articles/act-scores-show-drop-in-college-readiness-especially-in-math-1539768600?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=1#comments_sector

I was struck by the article’s last two words, discussing the ACT’s usefulness because it allows comparisons of students on a “common metric.” We assume the metric is “common.” The same for all students. It’s a belief, but is it still real? As my loyal readers know, I have my growing doubts about this.

Now that more students take the ACT and the SAT with non-standard accommodations, including the prized extended time, are they still a “common metric?” Really? See Douglas Belkin’s Wall Street Journal piece, “Colleges Bend the Rules for More Students, Give them Extra Help. ”

It’s more than time to question the assumption that the SAT and ACT are still a common metric. What do we mean by a “common” metric? When students take the test in different non-standard ways, what does the score mean? What is actuall y measured? What is common? Are these tests still valid in measuring what they purport to measure? Why are they timed?

It’s time for an honest discussion to regain trust in the system.I was struck by the article’s last two words: that the ACT is useful because it allows comparisons of students on a “common metric.” This is a popular assumption. It’s a belief, but is it still real?

as reported in Diane Ravitch’s blog.

https://dianeravitch.net/2018/08/30/mercedes-schneider-reports-on-the-college-boards-big-goof-with-the-sat/

Here’s another College Board mess (add this to all the earlier discussion about their accommodation policy which does not notify anyone when tests are given under nonstandard conditions–especially with time and a half or twice as long… so that the SAT ( and ACT) are no longer standardized!

Here, apparently, the College Board gave the SAT in in Asia in 2017 and then reused that test in the US in 2018–the test and answers had already been out there. Some lucky students already had that edge.

EEK! Where will this all end?

https://dianeravitch.net/2018/08/22/carol-burris-finds-good-news-in-latest-ednext-poll/

It’s always fascinating to read the ups and downs of this annual poll. Issues include teacher pay, charters, vouchers, funding, etc.

As a staunch supporter of public education, I”m concerned about a huge missing piece: special education. It involves about 13-14% of our students (roughly speaking, far more than twice those who attend charters or use vouchers) and the cost for their education is anywhere between21 and 40% of school budgets. Yet it’s not even on the front burner here.

I’ve been working to reform special education so it works well for ALL students–whether disabled or not– and ALL teachers. Special education policies –including mainstreaming, inclusion, standards, accommodations, and many others–affect ALL schools. It is my view that we can’t really understand public policy or move the needle on improving education for ALL students without tackling special education…. As you can see in my book, Special Education 2.0, it’s more than time to break taboos and create public education that works for ALL students.

Why are there no questions about any of this? Wati ’til next year!

Here we go again. The saga that never ends. That is, SAT and ACT accommodations saga. It’s been wrong from day one and the reverberations just keep on coming. See recent stories about the overuse of these accommodations….

Back in 2003 I wrote (“Disabling the SAT”) about the fact that these testing giants, the SAT and ACT, had just agreed to stop “flagging” test scores when the tests had been taken under nonstandard conditions. The SAT reached a settlement of a potential lawsuit that never happened. And the ACT followed shortly thereafter.

The policy has gone off the rails many times since then, and here’s another aspect of it.

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/high_school_and_beyond/2018/08/students_with_disabilities_sue_act_over_release_of_personal_information.html

I’m writing because this story and the ACT’s actions reported-like so many others–gets it wrong. This story (and apparently what the ACT did, according to this report), focuses on the students and their disabilities, not on the test. The ACT is accused of sending students’ “disability information” to colleges.

Back to basics. The flag was NEVER about the student or the disabiity. It was ALWAYS about the test. The flag was a notification to whomever (colleges, high schools, students, parents) that a test had been administered under nonstandard conditions. Often, with extended time. Period. That was the flag’s job.

As I see it, while the ACT could have (but for its agreement) notified colleges that a test score was achieved under nonstandard conditions, it CANNOT notify the colleges about the student (e.g., that he/she is disabled). Apparently the ACT did that–according to this story.
http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/high_school_and_beyond/2018/08/students_with_disabilities_sue_act_over_release_of_personal_information.html

This flagging/not flagging story will just not go away. It is wrong on so many levels and has been wrong from the get go. At the time of that agreement, these testing companies did and continue to time these tests. In a lawsuit, they could have and should have provided the reasons for timing these tests and why timing is a fundamental part of the standardization. Had they done so persuasively, they could have continued to flag test results that were achieved under nonstandard conditions, such as extended time.

But, for whatever reason, as detailed in my 2003 story, the SAT chose NOT to defend its practice and standardization requirements (and the ACT followed shortly thereafter). They both stopped flagging test reports.

Bottom line: My focus has always been on ensuring test validity; that the test actually measures what it purports to measure. That is, a timed test measures what a student knows and can do within a standard amount of time. It’s all about the test–not the student. According to this story, it seems that the ACT revealed information about the students and their disabilities. This is wrong.

This flagging/non flagging story has been a downhill story for about 15 years already. When and where will it end?

Thank you, Luke Egan for bringing this issue to the fore– again–and thank you, a loyal reader of my work, for bringing it to my attention.

The opening paragraph is terrific, as it raises the issue by students for students.

“The most polarizing issue in my high school’s community didn’t relate to religion or politics. It was the issue of extra time. Extra time, which is often given for in-class assignment and standardized tests, typically offers students who qualify 1.5 to double the amount of time to complete an assessment as peers who don’t qualify. While extra time may be given for a host of reasons, it is usually given when a student is diagnosed with a processing difference such as ADHD, dysgraphia, and dyslexia. The problem, however, is when families take advantage of this accommodation for students who don’t actually need it.”

Read on! I’m glad to see a student raising this issue. Apparently it’s been a hot one at his posh private school. As well it should be. At his school, 18% of students had extended time! He cites other private schools where that percentage is up to 46%. Really? What are we doing? Whatever happened to the standardized SAT?

https://merionwest.com/2018/08/05/extra-time-in-school-is-just-another-way-the-wealthy-game-the-system/

My loyal readers will know that, as unfair and outrageous as these percentages are, I have not focused on that issue. My concern with these extended time allowances THAT NO ONE IS NOTIFIED ABOUT has always focused on the test, not the student. Or as I write, the WHAT before the WHO.

Giving extended time (without providing any notice of this fact to colleges, parents, schools) means that these tests are NO LONGER STANDARDIZED. It’s time to finally be honest about that! And since that’s the case, why are we still using these tests (SAT and ACT) and paying so much for them? Why?

A standardized test is one that is given to all students under standard conditions. Whither that basic fundamental requirement?

Read on. Let’s hope we hear from more students, parents, and teachers.

…Ah, those SAT and ACT accommodations.

Some students get accommodations–especially extended time (50 or 75% or ??? more time than other students–without ANY notice to colleges, schools, students, and parents that those tests were taken under non-standard conditions.

Really? Yes, really.

So long as colleges continue to use these tests in their admission process, the most basic requirement is that they be standardized. They no longer are–as we no longer know how students took those tests. So,what is the point? Why do we still have those costly and scary tests?

There’s even a mug. I (HEART) time and a half! at https://blog.prepscholar.com/how-long-is-the-sat-with-extended-time.

Finally, the question is posed: has inclusion gone too far? Do we know? Can we know? The question posed in this important piece by Allison Gilmour, published in Education Next is: Has Inclusion Gone Too Far?

https://www.educationnext.org/has-inclusion-gone-too-far-weighing-effects-students-with-disabilities-peers-teachers/

At last, maybe we’re getting somewhere–that is, maybe we will start to focus on ALL students and ALL teachers in our schools when we set up inclusion/mainstreaming efforts for students with disabilities. We need to know how this movement works–for all students, including students with disabilities and all students who are their peers in schools; as well as, how it affects teaching and teachers.

In short, as this piece points out, we need research about how the inclusion movement affects everyone at school. Everyone.

I’ve been concerned about and written about this issue many, many times–viewing inclusion from the lens of all students and teachers, and seeking supporting evidence. Check out my book, Special Education 2.0 and that Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Mainstreaming.”

This important article is what we need much more of–objective research focused on teaching and learning for all students–before we continue down the path that our government pushes, even as it lacks the necessary supporting evidence for it.

Thank you, Allison Gilmour, for pursuing this vital need and the Fordham Institute for publishing this piece. Let’s think and read and work together for the benefit of all students and teachers.