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

There’s no doubt. We’re all going through tough times across our country and world. Of course we’ll get through it — but it’s tough going. And while we’re going through it, what do people do? — cooped up at home. Puzzles? Write a book? Clean a closet? Contact friends and family on Skype or ZOOM. All good ideas.

Here’s my partial solution. Art! And, I dare say, I hope it brings a smile to your face. IF these pieces do that, they’ve done their job.

Yes, medicine bottle art! In my home these days, there are so many bottles — of all sizes, colors, and shapes. And my friends contribute theirs. I have lots of empty (and pretty, as I see it) medicine bottles. And here’s some of what I’ve done with them.

Here’s a vase in both the regular colors with those orange medicine bottles and in black and white. And, here’s the “Welcome to the City of Health,” and a close up of the people sitting in the park in the City of Health! Wish we could do that these days.

Our friend Dave Wilson took the photos. Thanks, Dave! Much appreciated.

Medicine bottles on driftwood
The closeup — relaxing at the park in the City of Health!

Enjoy them. And I do hope they brings a smile to your face! I have lots more and will share them in a future post.

We’ll get through this. Let’s also get creative! And keep on smiling.

This was originally posted on Medium

The untimely death of Professor Clayton Christensen at the age of 67 has jarred many of us. He was truly an amazing and influential innovator and disrupter.

I consider myself lucky because I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Christensen at his presentation in Boston many years ago — speaking about education. He was very clear and inspiring, and I’ve continued to follow him from a distance ever since.

I’d like to share some of his thoughts on the limits of data. We in education are directed to collect data, data, data. Our governments demand it. We’ve absorbed the call that is in the air everywhere. We’re supposed to gather data to — we are told — prove our methods and thereby, improve student outcomes.

We mourn the death of Clayton Christensen, the Harvard Business School professor who is known as the disrupter — a management guru who assisted so many companies to create anew — many in Silicon Valley credit him for their success. See tributes by Bill Gates and Stephen Jobs, for instance.

And yet, Christensen questioned the primacy and continued piling on — of data. As I read and listened to his two short presentations at the Drucker Forum in 2014 and 2016 — I was so moved and amazed.

While, like many, I’ve taken the idea of data collection as a given, here’s a disrupter who dared to question it and where it’s leading us and which opportunities we are missing. Take a listen. You’ll be glad you did.

_________________

Here’s part of

The 12th Annual Global Peter Drucker Forum honored him, as written below.​

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Clayton Christensen.
He was a towering figure — intellectually, morally and physically. We had the enormous privilege to have him as a supporter, mentor and friend of the Drucker Forum. As Steve Blank puts it, we all stood on Clay’s shoulders….

…… Clay spoke at the Forum in both 2014 and 2016, and had planned to be back in 2018. Sadly, as his health declined that became impossible. You will find videos of his memorable presentations and discussions below. These are historic documents, yet hold absolute relevance for today and for future Drucker Forums. At the 2020 Forum, we will continue the celebration of his life by adding our own recognition of the immense value he brought to management thought and practice.

Our thoughts of condolence go most deeply to his wife, Christine, and his children.”

Richard Straub, Founder & President
Angelica Kohlmann, Chair of the
International Advisory Board

Global Peter Drucker Forum

Now back to me….

Here are two of the clips that the Drucker Forum provided which deal iwth the limits of data.

Data collection is a vital issue for those of us who toil in the public school arena –as we are pushed to collect more data and to create programs driven by data. Really? Please share these clips with colleagues who work in schools and who create programs for schools. I believe you’ll be glad you listened to them.

In so doing, we’ll be honoring the memory and legacy of Clayton Christensen.

Innovation and Growth

“Growth comes from (disruptive) innovation and the link between the two is investment” … and how misguided metrics thwart growth. Watch the video.

The Limits of Data

“Data was not created by God. Data is a representation of a phenomenon, but the data is not the phenomenon” … and why that should make you desperate for theory. Watch the video.

This was originally posted on Medium

Violent Students Keep Coming Back

Joanne, thanks for highlighting this the real-world example of a misplaced common good. Here’s her story and my comment.

https://www.joannejacobs.com/2019/12/violent-students-keep-coming-back/

Violent students keep coming back

DECEMBER 16, 2019 BY JOANNE 1 COMMENT

Violent students can assault teachers and classmates, then return to class a few days later, report Brittany Wallman and Megan O’Matz in the South Florida Sun Sentinel. They blame mainstreaming of children with emotional and behavioral disabilities and inadequate support staff trained to deal with their problems.

In school after school, students are erupting with violence. They stab or beat teachers. They throw furniture. They stalk and attack classmates, turning schoolrooms into danger zones where the rights of violent students with disabilities trump all others.

. . . State and federal laws guarantee those students a spot in regular classrooms until they seriously harm or maim others. Even threatening to shoot classmates is not a lawful reason to expel the child.

Federal law guarantees students with disabilities the right to be educated in the “least restrictive environment,” Wallman and O’Matz note. Florida law requires agreement “from the parents, or a judge, before transferring a disabled child to a special-needs school with more therapeutic services and smaller class sizes.”

Reporters found more than 100 students who threatened to kill their teachers, classmates or themselves in an 18-month period, they write. “Nearly half of the youths had histories of mental disorders, and more than half had access to guns.”

“Students with violent tendencies have more rights than the students that they endanger. Just ask Nikolas Cruz,” one schoolteacher told the Sun Sentinel.

The same laws that protect disabled students make it difficult for schools to remove a student like the profoundly disturbed Cruz, who was obsessed with hurting others before he killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14, 2018.

“You cannot get the child out of the classroom,” former teacher Patrick Jovanov said. “You can get him out of the classroom for a day or two or three, but the child comes back.”

Increasingly, teachers are told to leave an out-of-control student in the classroom, while evacuating the rest of the class, writes Max Eden on Quillette. “Room clears” are “designed to protect the rights of troubled students, often with little regard for the rights of their classmates,” charges Eden.

Disruptive or violent students, often labeled as having an “Emotional and Behavioral Disability” (EBD), need “specialized attention in separate settings,” he argues. Assigned to a mainstream class, they can “become virtually untouchable.”

The rise in room clears is directly related to policy initiatives aimed at stamping out so-called “restraint and seclusion.” In the past, as a student’s misbehavior escalated, a teacher might ask the student to leave the room, put a hand on a student’s shoulder to try to get him to calm down, or — if need be — direct him by the arm away from a tense situation and possibly call security to remove him from the classroom area. But as policymakers take these options off the table, teachers have little recourse but to remove every single other student from the classroom before someone gets hurt.

“Teachers report feeling powerless to enforce order and ensure the safety of their students,” Eden concludes.

Laura Waters, who blogs at New Jersey Left Behind, is the mother of a son with special needs. Eden is wrong, she responds. School districts aren’t “powerless,” she argues. They’re too cheap to hire and train support staff. A one-on-one aide can escort a disruptive student from the classroom to a “calming space” and call in a therapist or social worker, if necessary, writes Waters.

Students who misbehave aren’t “untouchable,” she writes. “Many districts train aides and special education teachers in strategies like Handle With Care, which (according to this New Jersey policy manual) uses ‘physical restraint to control a student’s behavior to protect the student and/or a member of the school community from imminent serious physical harm’.”

And here’s my comment:

As a school attorney, citizen, parent, and grandparent, I tend to view the issue more as Max Eden does. I also carefully read Laura Waters ‘ comments — based on her experiences with her son. They both raise valid points.

The debate goes on and on, even as, as I see it, we lose sight of the big picture for our nation — our nation’s public schools that are supposed to serve ALL students. A minimal requirement is that all students can feel safe there. That is the most basic fundamental need.

Alas, we’re far from meeting that need right now. While good people like Ms. Waters and Mr. Eden can debate on and on with good arguments on all sides, as I see it, utltimately, it matters not because of that OPEN BACK DOOR — which almost invites parents to vote with their feet OUT of our public schools altogether.

We can argue forever about the current (I believe flawed) inclusion and room clear policies… while parents (especially those with means who we want engaged in public education) vote with their feet out of the public schools altogether. Not for my kid. It’s not safe. My kid gets no attention. Etc. Etc. Etc. These parents, too, have good arguments.

It’s happening. We know that the percentage of wealthy students who have left public education for private schools or home schooling continues to grow. As I see it, that does not protect rights. Instead, it’s very bad for our nation.

Continuing on our current path further dessimates our public schools. It’s us vs. them. It’s in or out. it is the individual vs. the other students. It’s disruption, fear, uncertainty. It’s not good.

The bottom line is that current policies belie the fact that ALL KIDS MATTER ALL THE TIME. Schools have to be safe and serve ALL OF THEM. Flawed inclusion policies and room clear policies send the wrong message —in a word, that all students DON’T matter. Many parents see that and take action for their own children. They opt- out. They leave.

So tragic — while our government dithers and can’t figure out how to protect and educate ALL of our students, the back door swings wider.

Predictably and tragically, we’ll reach a tipping point when more schools than we already have seen in some troubled inner cities will be ever more for only the have-nots. Sad .Sad. Bad. Bad. Not good for America.

What to do? Instead of our current rights-driven approach for some students, focus on ALL students from the get to. Invite ALL general education parents and teachers to all of the planning tables from the get go . All means ALL. Focus on the rights to education in safe schools that all kids have. Move fast to reign in policies that disrupt the education for all students.

As long as these policies focused on some (but not all) students and their debates continue, it ain’t happening. Sad for all of us and for our nation.

This was originally posted on Medium

The IMPOSSIBLE Special Ed Fix!

The IMPOSSIBLE Special Ed Fix!

We’ve heard about the “IMPOSSIBLE burger” — making burgers from vegetables, not beef. Some people think it’s actually yummy!

So how about the IMPOSSIBLE Fix for special education!

It’s time and it’s not complicated: focus on teaching and learning for all students, general and special education, not procedures, rights, due process, litigation, and the ever-present anxiety-laden fear of litigation that so wrenches today’s schools, teachers, students, and parents.

For the 80–90% of students with disabilities who have mild and moderate needs and are educated mostly in general education classrooms, and their general education peers, focus on learning in schoolrooms — not their parents’ fights in courtrooms.

Notably, in 2017, the Supreme Court, in Endrew F. v. Douglas County, acknowledged the existence of two student groups who receive special education. We know that 10–20% of them have severe or profound needs, and often require complex and costly services. For these students, I believe it’s time to convene a summit to plan a new way forward.

The IMPOSSIBLE Fix focuses on the 80–90% of students with disabilities who have mild or moderate needs and are mostly in general education classrooms. It’s time to substitute the entitlement and due process rights they have had since 1975 when the law was enacted to ensure that all students with disabilities receive education services. That goal was achieved long ago. We now educate more than 6 million students under this law — 13–14% of all students! The entitlement, the only one in our schools, is no longer needed, in my view. Uncapped, it is costly and has become dysfunctional, damaging, and often impedes good education practice.

Really? End the entitlement and due process? That sure is radical! Yes, and probably IMPOSSIBLE. But, let’s at least consider this path. I see it as the only way to fix the mess we’re in. And, if we can’t end it — let’s limit and cap it.

Imagine a 2nd grade teacher with 24 students — five of whom receive special education services. She knows she has to take care of those students first — lest a dispute or hearing arise! How does that help all students learn? How is that fair to those children and the other 19 in the classroom? How is that best practice?

I’ve been writing and speaking about reform at least since 1995. It seems like forever! My writings and presentations are usually well-received, and I often hear: “You’re doing important work. Keep at it.” “Good luck with that!” And the most poignant, “You’re saying exactly what I’ve been thinking and have been afraid to say….”

Yet, nothing really changes until, hopefully, now. Over the last 5–10 years I’ve sensed as new feeling… that more and more people are willing to consider real change. Here’s how we can get to where we need to be to focus on schooling and learning for all students, including the 80–90% of students with disabilities and their general education peers.

1. That table. Invite the right people — all stakeholders people to the table. Since special education students make up around 13–14% of all students, have them be that percent at the table. Fill the table with general education teachers, administrators, parents who work with and love -average students, advanced and gifted students, English language learners, students in poverty, students in wealth. You get the idea. All students. No more trying to fix special education by inviting only those in the “biz” with a sprinkling of others. Instead, invite 13–14% of stakeholders who work with and represent special education — teachers, administrators, parents.

Then, seek honest input from those at the table. Ask open ended questions. Build a summary that everyone takes back to their lives, shares, and revises, until you repeat that meeting at that table. And repeat until we fix the mess we are in.

2. The options. Create attractive options that will substitute for the cumbersome and burdensome system that, after all the paperwork, meetings, and other procedures leaves special education teachers with just 27% of their time for — you guessed it — teaching! Many leave the field as a result, creating a special education teacher shortage.

Creative attractive options already exist. Here are but a few examples.

Check out Vermont’s sweeping education reform. https://info.dmgroupk12.com/

And see excellent work in competency-based education in Westminster, Colorado. https://www.westminsterpublicschools.org/cbswps

I’m also eager to learn more about Karen L Mapp’s program for parent and family engagement at Harvard.

Oh, there are so many other examples of schools and others doing effective work for all students. It’s time to open the floodgates!

Instead of the time and money spent on nonsense –paperwork, compliance, litigation — nonsense because these do not improve student outcomes and, often, get in the way —

Instead of due process and litigation, seek the “the IMPOSSIBLE Fix” of dispute resolution options that are relationship and trust-building and do not involve litigation.

Instead of labeling students as gatekeepers to services, through the failed “wait to fail” model, provide early and steady interventions for all students — from the most needy to the most advanced.

Instead of endless focus on student weaknesses — what they can’t do — focus on their strengths and passions — what they can and love to do!

Instead of training parents to become mini lawyers to fight against the very schools that educate their children, train parents to help their children learn and benefit from all the gifts that schools offer.

3. The benefits. Treasure benefits that will result from implementing the IMPOSSIBLE Fix. These include more time for teaching and learning, better partnerships and more trust between schools and parents, fewer teachers abandoning the field, moneys spent on best practices in classrooms, not winning strategies in court rooms, and the best news of all: better outcomes for all students, as teachers will have more than a mere 27% of time for teaching.

It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work to make the IMPOSSIBLE — actually POSSIBLE! Let’s create the Impossible Special Ed Fix!

This was originally posted on Medium

This Commentary In Education Week (November 13, 2019) by James R. Delisle is important. So, I’m taking the liberty of providing it to my readers here.

I think Delisle said it well — we need to educate all of our children and not scapegoat those who are advanced or gifted. While I don’t like the term “gifted and talented” and prefer to use the term “advanced,” I support this writer’s view . Our inability to assist those at the top through a misplaced “bias” against them will, in the end, hurt all of us. Our nation needs all of our students to be their best. All of them. We cannot afford to ignore/scapegoat/resent/choose your verb/ those who happen to be bright and advanced. Instead, we need them to excel!

Here’s James R. Delisle’s Opinion, followed by the Comment I submitted.

__________________________

OPINION

Stop Scapegoating Gifted Students for Inequality

The faulty logic behind intensifying attacks on gifted education

By James R. Delisle

November 6, 2019 (Published in the November 13, 2019 paper edition).

When I began teaching children with cognitive difficulties more than 40 years ago, it seemed that everyone I met had something positive to say about me or my job selection: “You must have infinite patience.” “We need more teachers willing to work with students who learn differently.” “I could never do such a demanding job.”

Several years later, after having worked with a 5th grader who had both learning challenges and an incredibly sharp intellect, I changed my career focus to the other end of the special education continuum: I became a teacher of gifted children. Never before had I worked with such a complex child — one who both excelled academically while simultaneously facing definite learning and behavioral issues. I figured if one child like this existed, others did, too. I wanted to help these types of kids.

I thought that my work with gifted kids would be considered as valuable as my work with children with cognitive difficulties. However, that’s when the laudatory comments stopped and vocal criticisms took the place of the close-to-sainthood comments I had received earlier in my career: “We should spend our scarce education dollars on kids who really need it, not gifted kids.” “Gifted kids don’t need you half as much as those who struggle to learn.” “Why are you teaching kids who already have it made in school?”

“Today’s gifted children and their special education programs are blamed for many of society’s ills.”

It all seemed so odd to me, as common sense would dictate that whichever extreme of the intellectual bell curve children fell on, they would have unique learning needs not experienced by so-called “average students.”

Of course, I experienced this logical schism more than four decades ago, so things would certainly be different today, in 2019. And they are. The schism is worse. Today’s gifted children and their special education programs are blamed for many of society’s ills — educational inequality, racial and economic divisions, and the promotion of elitism among the parents whose children have been identified as gifted. I’m not exactly sure why this schism has gotten bigger instead of smaller, but it might have something to do with our collective American discomfort in labeling some kids more intellectually capable than others. And, as a result, gifted kids have become the educational scapegoats for detractors seeking to blame them for simply being themselves.

The most recent salvo into this educational firestorm is the recommendation of the New York City School Diversity Advisory Group, a commission appointed by Mayor Bill DeBlasio, to eliminate most gifted programs in the city and blend the most intellectually capable children into general education classes where the 1st, 4th, or 10th grade teachers will (in theory) be able to meet gifted students’ advanced academic needs.

Proponents of this plan consider the high percentage of White and Asian children in the New York City gifted programs and schools to be de facto evidence of the above-mentioned -isms: racism, classism, and elitism. But, instead of seeing the racial and economic imbalance in gifted programs as a cry to expand methods of identifying giftedness in populations of children who are underserved by them, the solution is to toss out what works for some children because it doesn’t work for all children.

Eliminating gifted programs, in the New York City schools or anywhere else, would be a capitulation to simplistic thinking that denies a blatant reality: that gifted children, like any other children with atypical leaning needs, require an education that embraces their needs, not ignores them.

Using this same faulty logic, I have to wonder if the New York City schools should consider eliminating classes and programs for those with developmental delays, as children of color and students from poverty are generally overrepresented in such options. How about varsity basketball teams, as they tend to be underrepresented by short people and those who can’t run fast? Or theatre and music programs where auditions are required, as these auditions tend to eliminate those who can’t memorize a script or sing like a songbird?

My hunch is that lawsuits would surely follow attempts to eliminate programs for children with learning challenges. And, woe to the public school that promotes an “everyone can be on the varsity team” approach to athletics, as game attendance would surely drop without some baseline standard of performance as a prerequisite for becoming a point guard. When common-sense standards are set to match the expectations of performance in either academic or extracurricular endeavors, we are not practicing discrimination. Instead, we are recognizing that different kids have different levels of gifts and talents, plain and simple.

I have taught and counseled thousands of gifted children and teens. Each of these kids had a parent or other caregiver who wanted nothing more than what every other parent or caregiver wants for their own children: the chance to shine in their own light and to have their intellectual and other learning needs appreciated, respected, and addressed.

Gifted children have always been in our schools — and they always shall be. Denying them educational equity while offering it to every other child with a learning difference is the ultimate example of misplaced bias. By seeking to eliminate gifted programs entirely, New York City schools and any other jurisdiction inclined to follow their lead would be well-advised to consider that the true meaning of equity is rooted in fairness and justice. Applying this understanding of equity universally in schools, not by whim, serves all of our students well, including those who are gifted.

James R. Delisle is a retired distinguished professor of education from Kent State University and the author of 24 books, including the 2018 Doing Poorly on Purpose: Strategies to Reverse Underachievement and Respect Student Dignity (ASCD/Free Spirit). For the past eight years, he has taught a freshman seminar for gifted high school students at Scholars Academy in Conway, S.C.

Vol. 39, Issue 13, Page 20

Published in Print: November 6, 2019, as Stop Scapegoating Gifted Children

© 2019 Editorial Projects in Education

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COMMENT:

Miriam Freedman4 days ago

Thank you, Jim Deslisle. Of course, you are right! And I appreciate your pointing out current trends (especially those in New York City) that defy common sense and good public policy and will lead us down the road to mediocrity — if followed.

But let’s go a step further. Not only should we serve all children well and end this “misplaced bias” against the gifted — as you call it, but let’s also remember that individual students will live and work in the larger context of our nation. Our nation needs all students to be the BEST they can be — including advanced and gifted students.

When I read that recent NAEP and other scores show a FLATTENING at the top, I cry for my beloved country (to quote Alan Paton). What are we doing here? How does mediocrity help us? This is nuts!

Our nation needs all children to contribute their gifts and talents. All children. Including, of course, the ones who are the subject of this excellent op-ed. And it’s our schools’ job to help them be the best they can be.

Your thoughts?

This was originally posted on Medium

The provocative title of Greg Toppo’s piece in Education Next. How about untimed SATs for everyone, he posits. https://www.educationnext.org/support-builds-making-sat-untimed-for-everyone-possible-solution-gaming-the-system/

So interesting and so sad to me, as I ‘ve watched this unfortunate saga unfold since even before 2002. The SAT’s extra time story is the story that just won’t go away ever since the College Board made a total mess of if back in 2002/2003. That was when the CB (and shortly thereafter the ACT) stopped notifying readers by flagging (with an asterisk) test scores that were achieved under nonstandard conditions, such as extra time. Before then, these tests were indeed standardized timed tests. If a student received extended time, as was possible for a few — less than 2% of test takers — notice was provided to the readers of the test result reports — such as college admissions officers — that the score was obtained with a nonstandard accommodation; that is, the test was no longer standardized!

2002–3 opened the floodgates. As you’ll read below, Bruce Poch nailed that reality in Toppo’s article. I had predicted it back in 2003, in my own Education Next piece, “Disabling the SAT.” https://www.educationnext.org/disablingthesat/

Indeed, it was obvious for anyone who chose to look — to see!

In essence the CB and ACT invited students with disability labels to seek extra time on these tests — 50% 75% or 100% more time-and the gift was that nobody would know because the CB and ACT would no longer tell them! Standardized and nonstandardized testing would, henceforth, be lumped together in SAT and ACT reports!

We predicted then that this gift would lead to use/misuse of extra time, especially in mostly in wealthy communities. Besides my 2003 story, see Sam Abrams’ 2005 report, cited in Toppo’s piece. And now, it’s gone over the top as we’ve witnessed the criminalized extreme to which some parents have taken this in the “Varsity Blues” scandal.

While the CB’s Zachary Goldberg says that removing the flag was the right thing to do at the time, I disagree. It was the easy way out for this huge and powerful organization that was faced with the threat of a lawsuit at the time. They settled. Buckled. And in so doing, they wiped out validity from their prize product. They no longer kept the tests valid. This settlement confused parents, teachers and students — and still does. Over these almost 20 years, it became the story that they just can’t “disappear,” And tragically, as we all know, it has lead to unfair gaming of the system.

So how to fix it? Now, it appears that the wish among many seems to be to make these tests untimed. Sure, that may solve the gaming problem for now. But I say, careful what you wish for.

Sure, go ahead. Change the test — make it untimed —and while you’re at it, why not let students use their iPhones when taking the test or let them stand on their heads spitting wooden nickels to relax them…when taking it. Whatever. Sure, go ahead. And maybe create a new organization or company to create these tests.

But understand that you are creating and promoting different tests— no longer the SAT or ACT which are timed and standardized. At the very least, be honest about what you are doing. Sure, it may be a “Possible Solution to the Gaming Problem,” as the article’s tagline announces — but at what cost? And will it get us where we need and want to be?

Toppo quotes Ari Trachtenberg, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at BU, as questioning the accommodations practices. Accommodations are not rigorously analyzed or understood. Further, it’s not clear that giving more time to college students actually helps them in life or when they are faced with “high-pressure tech interviews, “ etc., etc., etc. Of course he’s right. As the article points out, the whole field of time-related accommodations is squishy at best.

Bruce Poch, a dean of admissions and executive director of college counseling at Chadwick School, is also quoted. He is spot on when he said the CB handed the keys to this problem to the world back in 2003.

Let’s analyze that a bit more. What I wrote about then and what is still true, is that the key to this mess is the CB’s refusal to tell us why the test is timed. Indeed Ruth Colker, a law professor at Ohio State University who is an advocate for untimed or extended-time SATs, writes that these tests should be untimed “unless they can show that the strict time limits are truly required for validity.” She is totally right, of course, in her focus on the key to this mess which has been here and ignored for almost 20 years!

Since 2002/3, many of us have made these arguments over the years . And yet, the beat goes on. More kids take the SATs and ACTs and these organization rake in more money.

The question to day is: WHY do we let the CB and ACT get away with just trying to maintain “test security” to keep their industry going? It’s maddening! Can’t they be put on the spot finally and answer the question: Why is the SAT timed? WHY? WHY? WHY?

We still don’t know. It’s more than time that the College Board level with the public and tell us.

This was originally posted on Medium

Here’s an important piece in today’s Wall Street Journal (September 7–8, 2019), The Secret of a Charter School’s Success? Parents.”

Robert Pondiscio’s article is brave because it talks real about what many of us know but dare not say out loud. By focusing on the vital role that parents play, it tracks my own thinking that reform efforts for student success really really need parental (or other mentor — caregiver, grandparent, etc.) support and engagement.

In short, for me, it highlights the nagging concern about the “close the gap” obsession that is driving schools and policy makers these days — that focus on schools without focusing on parents. As I see it, we will not get to success by doing that. We continue to try to solve the wrong problem with the wrong players. Thus, the public and policy makers too often continue the drumbeat of beating up on schools and teachers — and throwing more money and effort on the challenge — yet the gaps remain.

Too often, our public schools are not playing with a full deck. One leg of the three-legged stool is missing! We don’t have all the necessary players on board — students, teachers, parents — all fulfilling their end of the mission. It’s time we focus on that other leg of the puzzle — parents. We need them on board as active participants. With that, we can begin to hope for real success.

This article provides a rather stark example of what public schools can do to get parents on board to educate all students…and even begin to “close those gaps.”

Your thoughts? Here’s that article!

The Secret of a Charter School’s Success? Parents

Low-income families ‘self-select’ for Success Academy’s demanding program, with remarkable results

Ninth grader Elliot Detou at Success Academy High School of the Liberal Arts in March 2017. PHOTO: STEPHEN REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

By

Robert Pondiscio

Sept. 6, 2019 9:50 am ET

Charter schools are a boutique phenomenon in American education, educating a mere 6% of U.S. school children. But they attract a disproportionate amount of attention — and controversy — because of their unique place in our education ecosystem. Public, tuition-free schools open to all students, but operated independently of school districts, they offer a Rorschach test revealing how one feels about U.S. public education at large. They can be perceived either as engines of innovation and an indispensable means to rescue children from failing neighborhood schools, or as an existential threat draining away resources — both money and engaged families — from traditional public schools.

Collectively, charter schools educate 3.2 million children in 7,000 schools in 43 states and the District of Columbia. None are more polarizing than New York City’s network of about 50 Success Academy schools, which serve 17,000 students — 94% of whom are from minority backgrounds — under their visionary and lightning-rod leader, Eva Moskowitz. Most are less than a decade old, and all of them are exceptionally high performing. In a city where less than 40% of black and Hispanic children test at proficiency for reading or math, 90% of Success Academy’s students of color passed the most recent state reading test. Virtually all of them — over 98% — did so in math.

Test results should not be the sole measure of school quality, but they’re how we often keep score. By that standard, there’s no such thing as a bad Success Academy school. Its very “worst” campus saw 85% of its students pass last year’s reading test, and in math the worst was 92% — a level of quality and consistency unmatched by any other large charter school network in the U.S.

Success Academy does something else that’s unique and mostly unnoticed, but it creates the conditions that make these results possible. By law, oversubscribed charter schools must admit students by lottery. Success Academy has roughly six applicants for every seat, which gives the appearance of a randomly selected student body. But it exercises unusual influence over which students end up actually enrolling. In the end, the chances of an applicant being offered a seat appear to be closer to 50/50 than one-in-six.

Eva Moskowitz, founder of Success Academy, in August 2017. PHOTO: CELESTE SLOMAN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Parents who win the lottery, and even those whose children are only on the wait list, must attend a series of mandatory meetings and complete various administrative steps for their applications to remain “active” between the April lottery and the start of school in August. Those who falter fall away.

At every step, school leaders aggressively preach to prospective parents about their no-nonsense culture and the expectation that parents come with eyes wide open, fully committed to Success Academy’s program and policies, including strict behavior codes, school uniform compliance, supervising homework, reading with children every night and recording what’s read in a log. Parents are warned repeatedly in unsparing language, “Success Academy may not be for you.” Significantly, the schools offer no transportation or after-school programs, a potential deal breaker for working single parents or those without the support network to pick up and drop off their children every day.

This process, whether by happenstance or design, yields a parent body comprised largely of the most motivated parents and those with the organizational skills and resources to meet Success Academy’s high bar for parental engagement. This sets the stage to strive for — and mostly achieve — consistent and high levels of academic achievement “at scale” among low-income children of color, who would otherwise be lost to the dull hum of mediocrity in zoned neighborhood schools.

To deny low-income families of color the ability to self-select into safe and well-run schools with high expectations is to impose mediocrity on them.

This seems unfair — except for the fact that the ability to self-select into a well-run, high-performing school is unremarkable and unquestioned among affluent Americans. When well-off parents pay for their children to attend a private or religious school, or when they move into high-income ZIP codes where inflated home prices and eye-popping property taxes are de facto tuition for excellent “public” schools, they are making the same decision as the low-income parents drawn to Success Academy. Both groups are voting with their feet and committing their own resources — money or time — to ensure that their children go to school with the children of similarly engaged and motivated parents.

To deny low-income families of color the ability to self-select into safe and well-run schools with high expectations is to impose mediocrity on them, ostensibly for the public good. It is a burden that no affluent family is asked or expected to bear. Ms. Moskowitz insists that even if she were allowed to, she would not screen and handpick applicants instead of admitting families by lottery. “I wouldn’t do it,” she told me, “because I don’t think I could tell who they are.” Perhaps not, but she has created a mechanism for those families to identify themselves.

Ms. Moskowitz’s many critics will look at the small but non-trivial hurdles parents must clear as proof that she is not running great schools, merely a sorting mechanism. But this ignores what’s most remarkable about Success Academy: Its schools don’t just match those of affluent suburban districts but easily outperform them. Working with self-selected families under careful conditions, Ms. Moskowitz hasn’t merely closed the achievement gap. She has reversed it.

The politics of education reform require that we be less than candid about all of this self-sorting, but the upshot for rich and poor alike is clear: School culture and parent buy-in matter. The brand of education pioneered by Success Academy may indeed be “not for everyone,” but its schools are well run, not the joyless and militaristic hothouses critics imagine. They serve much the same role as Catholic schools did for previous generations of striving New Yorkers. Success Academy suggests the upper limits of what is possible when a critical mass of active and engaged families of color, who happen to be poor, are given permission to exercise the same degree of choice as affluent families.

But this all must be done sotto voce. One former Success Academy school leader whom I interviewed struck a philosophical tone. “Is it really such a bad thing that this is basically an elite private school that admits by lottery?” he asked. “It’s the first time folks in the inner city have had that chance.”

It’s not a bad thing. The disparity of opportunity afforded to rich and poor Americans is what must change. The privileged are unfettered in their pursuit of an excellent education for their children; the rest get “equity.” Worse, we are forced to be dishonest in arguments both for and against charter schools, resorting to aspirational, politically pleasing narratives about what it takes to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children. It’s time to stop airbrushing parents out of the picture and to acknowledge the sometimes uncomfortable truth that their role is indispensable.

— Mr. Pondiscio is senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and teaches at Democracy Prep Public Schools, a charter school network in New York City. This essay is adapted from his book “How the Other Half Learns: Equity, Excellence and the Battle Over School Choice,” which will be published on Sept. 10 by Avery.

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This was originally posted on Medium