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Monday, February 19, 2018

ADHD Supports are Often Ineffective

From Smart Kids with LD

February 12, 2018

A study among high-school students with ADHD found that many are receiving services—just not the type that improve academic performance.

According to a report in Education Week, the study, published in the School Journal of Mental Health, showed that more than half of 543 high school students surveyed had IEPs or Section 504 plans.

Their plans included objectives to address their “specific learning disability” or “other health impairment,” terms often used to provide services for children with ADHD because that condition is not covered under the IDEA.

But in most cases, the supports were not evidence-based practices known to help students with ADHD. Instead they were accommodations such as extended time for test taking or homework—neither of which has been found to improve academic outcomes for students with ADHD.

Of particular concern, the report authors said, is that only about a quarter of students reported receiving school services that have been shown to support students with the disorder. For example, helping students with learning strategies or study skills is evidence-based, but only about a third of the students who received supports got that type of help.

Another evidence-based support—facilitating postsecondary transition and employment through teaching work-related, self-advocacy and self-management skills—was provided to only about a quarter of the students receiving ADHD-related supports.

Learn What Works

Desiree Murray, lead author of the study, noted that evidence-based interventions for older students with ADHD are limited, “But there are some simple things schools can do such as teaching learning strategies, not just sending students to study hall.”

In her opinion, parents should advocate for services that provide actual tools, rather than modifications of assignments or “case management,” both of which have little impact on improving grades.

Too Many Poor, Minority Kids Attend Low-Performing Schools. That Doesn’t Mean Their Parents Don’t Care About Their Education

From The 74 Million

By Javeria Khan
February 12, 2018

Let’s try a thought experiment.

Imagine a school where most students are white and affluent, where 100 percent pass state math tests and 99 percent pass English Language Arts. Would reporters, politicians, and other members of the vocal public actively search for ways to explain away the results?

I think not. More likely the response would be: “Wow, that must be a great school, with excellent teachers and invested parents.”

The school I led for four years and currently manage as a principal supervisor gets these results. But my school, Success Academy Bed-Stuy 1, serves poor black and brown kids, and the response always seems to be that we are somehow cheating, that the results are meaningless because “Success Academy doesn’t accept the neediest students; it creams the good kids.”

Explaining away strong results with the accusation of creaming reveals an unspoken and offensive assumption: that poor, black, and brown communities have a small handful of “good” families — who care about education and want the best for their kids — and a large majority of “bad” families who don’t.

In fact, SA Bed-Stuy 1 admits students through random lottery and, by any measure, serves an extremely needy population: 79 percent of students are low-income (with 73 percent receiving free lunch), many live in surrounding public housing, and 13 percent are homeless.

Across all 46 schools in the Success Academy Charter Schools network, which collectively rank in the top 1 percent in the state for academic performance, 94 percent of students are minority and 74 percent are low-income.

The assumption so many make about the level of engagement among poor parents derives from a pernicious logic: There are many failing schools in low-income neighborhoods; therefore, poor families must be minimally invested in their children’s education.

But this logic gets it exactly backward: These families are minimally invested in local schools because the schools are failing.

When you provide them with excellent schools, where classrooms are safe, orderly, and fair; where every single adult — from the office coordinator to the school psychologist to the science teacher to the principal — knows how every child is doing and what he or she needs to excel academically; where every child gets rich opportunities in chess, art, science, music, and sports — guess what happens? Families become incredibly invested in those schools — because they were already invested in their child’s education.

One family I served at Bed-Stuy 1 exemplified this reality. Their daughter — I’ll call her Denise — attended the school over the four years I led it, and during this time she moved constantly between the homes of her mother and her grandmother, and in and out of temporary housing.

Despite these challenges, we held Denise to the same high expectations we held for all our students, and we gave her the same kind of intensive and individualized care to help her reach a high bar. We set ambitious goals for her, provided targeted support, and carefully tracked her progress. We held her accountable for completing her homework and reading each night.

And we consistently delivered a challenging curriculum, engaging instruction, and a safe, stable environment.

Denise had always worked hard, but she struggled early on and by third grade was in the middle of the pack in her class. We kept pushing her to go further, however, and in fourth grade, her teacher found innovative strategies to motivate her — inspiring an unprecedented level of effort and investment. That year, Denise received 4s on both the math and English state tests, with a perfect score in math.

Despite the disruptions in their home lives, Denise’s mother and grandmother saw that she was flourishing at school and matched our efforts. Even when placed in distant temporary housing, they got Denise to school on time and with her homework done.

Their tenacity — and the tenacity shown by other homeless families at Success who trek with their children from far-flung housing to school — demonstrates an important reality: If you serve children well by actively demonstrating a deep belief in their potential and a willingness to do whatever it takes to help them fulfill it, parents will meet that commitment even when they face personal challenges.

As a Success Academy teacher and principal, I learned many things from our parents, but the most vital lesson is that parental investment must be earned by schools and educators. As a city, we have to stop explaining away poor educational outcomes among low-income black and brown students by assuming that their parents aren’t committed to education and instead start creating schools that inspire and deserve their commitment.

Disclosure: Campbell Brown co-founded and sits on the boards of both The 74 and Success Academy.

Javeria Khan is managing director of schools at Success Academy Charter Schools in New York City. She was a leadership fellow and then principal at Success Academy Bed-Stuy 1 from 2012 to 2016.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Free to Be 2E! Supporting the Twice-Exceptional Children in Our Lives

From NESCA News & Notes

By Rebecca Girard, LICSW, CAS
February 5, 2018

Richard Branson
Businessman and Investor

Whoopie Goldberg
Actress and Talk Show Host

Tim Burton

Daryl Hannah

What do the celebrities above all have in common, aside from being wildly successful and having household names? They are all considered “2e”!

The term, “Twice Exceptional” or “2e” is gaining popularity in educational and therapeutic settings, but what does it mean? The term refers to children who possess both exceptional gifts and talents, and who also experience various learning difficulties such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Learning Disabilities, and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

A recently published textbook, Twice Exceptional: Supporting and Educating Bright and Creative Students with Learning Difficulties (2017) explores this movement in detail and offers the latest evidence- and strengths-based approaches in supporting the extraordinary “2e” young people in our lives.

Scott Barry Kaufman writes frequently on this topic. He argues that education and intervention have often employed a silo approach, meaning that these systems have viewed children as either exclusively disabled or exclusively gifted, instead of appreciating the dynamic interaction of both.

Kaufman describes this as an “artificial mutual exclusiveness” that is harmful to children whose unique profiles include both remarkable strengths and complex learning deficits.

This often leads to difficulty “fitting in” in traditional educational settings as well as to children feeling misunderstood and unappreciated for the things they are good at doing.

According to, a website dedicated to “multiple exceptionality” or the intersection of giftedness, disability, and trauma, there are three ways we misunderstand the needs of twice-exceptional children:
  • Disability masks giftedness, and the focus on correcting disability leads to giftedness being overlooked.
  • Giftedness masks the signs of disability.
  • Both giftedness and disability mask each other, and the person appears to be ordinary.

So what is to be done?

If you have a "2e" child in your life, consider the following recommendations set forth by Dr. Kaufman:

  • Specialized methods of identification that consider the possible interaction of the exceptionalities.
  • Enriched/advanced educational opportunities that focus on developing the child’s interests and highest strengths while also meeting the child’s learning needs.
  • Simultaneous supports that ensure the child’s academic success and social-emotional well-being, such as accommodations, therapeutic interventions, and specialized instruction.

As parents, educators, and therapists, we must be sensitive to the intricacies of a child’s abilities and deficits, and take care to not focus too exclusively on such a false dichotomy. Instead, let’s “see beyond lables,” as Dr. Kaufman suggests, and focus on natural strengths, internal motivation, and opportunities for growth.

Many accomplished people with learning differences attribute thinking differently as a factor in their success. May all our "2e" friends find what works best for them and create their own self-defined success.

For more information about twice-exceptionality, see below:

*Disclosure: Rebecca Girard, LICSW contributed to Twice Exceptional: Supporting and Educating Bright and Creative Students with Learning Difficulties in the chapter, “Appreciating and Promoting Social Creativity in Youth with Asperger’s Syndrome.”

Rebecca Girard, LICSW, CAS is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in neurodivergent issues, sexual trauma, and international social work. She has worked primarily with children, adolescents, adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families for over a decade.

Ms. Girard is highly experienced in using Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) as well as Socio-dramatic Affective Relational Intervention (SDARI), in additional to a number of other modalities. Her approach is child-centered, strengths-based, creative and compassionate.

How Talented Kids from Low-Income Families Become America’s ‘Lost Einsteins’

From The Conversation

By Alexander Bell (Ph.D. Candidate, Economics, Harvard), John Van Reenen (Prof. of Applied Economics, MIT), Raj Chetty (Prof. of Economics, Stanford University) and Xavier Jaravel (Asst. Prof.r of Economics, London School of Economics & Political Science)

January 24, 2018

Innovation is widely viewed as the engine of economic growth.

To maximize innovation and growth, all of our brightest youth should have the opportunity to become inventors. But a study we recently conducted, jointly with Neviana Petkova of the U.S. Treasury, paints a very different picture.

We found that a child’s potential for future innovation seems to have as much to do with the circumstances of his or her family background as it does with his or her talent.

We concluded that there are many “Lost Einsteins” in America – children who had the ability to innovate, but whose socioeconomic class or gender greatly reduced their ability to tap into the social networks and resources necessary to become inventors.

Our analysis sheds light on how increasing these young people’s exposure to innovators may be an important way to reduce these disparities and increase the number of inventors.

Academic Gaps Widen with Time

Our first finding is that there are large differences in innovation rates by socioeconomic class, race and gender. Using new de-identified data that allows us to track 1.2 million inventors from birth to adulthood, we found that children born to parents in the top 1 percent of the income distribution are 10 times as likely to become inventors as those born to parents in the bottom half.

Similarly, white children are three times as likely to become inventors as are black children. Only 18 percent of the youngest generation of inventors are female. Although the gender gap narrows somewhat each year, at the current rate of convergence, we won’t see gender balance until next century.

This is not to say that talent doesn’t play some role in determining who invents in America. In fact, math test scores for students even as young as third grade tell us a great deal about who will innovate. Unsurprisingly, inventors are typically found in the top tiers of math test scores.

More concerning is that while high-achieving youth from privileged backgrounds go on to invent at high rates, many comparably talented children from more modest backgrounds do not. Even among the most talented kids, family background is still an important determinant of who grows up to invent.

The relative importance of privilege and skills changes as kids get older. And it does so in a way that suggests that differences in educational environment contribute to disparities in patent rates. Near the start of elementary school, we can identify many high-achieving students from less privileged backgrounds. But as these students get older, the difference in test scores between rich and poor become much more pronounced.

By high school, youth from less privileged backgrounds who appeared to hold promise as future inventors when they were younger have fallen behind academically. Other recent research suggests that differences in schools and neighborhoods play a large role in this socioeconomic divergence in skills.

If we could somehow get all kids to grow up to invent at the same rate as white boys from America’s wealthiest families – that is, families with an income of $100,000 or more – we would have four times as many inventors in America. So what can be done to keep these “Lost Einsteins” in the pipeline to become innovators?

Cities Full of Inventors Spawn More Innovation

We found that increasing exposure to innovation may be a powerful tool to increase the number of inventors in America, particularly among women, minorities and children from low-income families. To test the importance of exposure, we first counted the number of inventors that lived in each child’s city when the child was young. We use this measure as a proxy for exposure to innovation. After all, a child’s chances of coming into contact with inventors increase when there are more inventors around.

We found that growing up in a city with more inventors substantially increases the likelihood that a child will become an inventor as an adult. This is true even when we took kids who were the children of inventors out of the analysis. This suggests that it’s not just children of inventors who are likely to become inventors themselves.

As time goes on, less privileged kids who had the talent to become inventors fall behind their more well-off peers academically.

We also found that kids who go on to become inventors tend to invent the same kinds of things as the inventors in the city where they grew up. For instance, among current Boston residents, those who grew up in Silicon Valley around computer innovators are most likely to invent computer-related technologies.

On the other hand, Boston residents who grew up in Minneapolis – a hub for medical device companies – are more likely to invent new medical devices. These detailed patterns suggest that there is something specific about interactions with inventors during childhood that causes kids to follow in their footsteps.

The effects of growing up around inventors are large. Our estimates suggest that moving a child from an area at the 25th percentile of exposure to inventors, such as New Orleans, to one at the 75th percentile, such as Austin, Texas, would increase the child’s chances of growing up to invent a new technology by as much as 50 percent.

These effects are stronger when children are exposed to inventors with similar backgrounds. Girls who grow up in a city with more female inventors are more likely to invent, but growing up around adult male inventors has no effect on girls’ future innovation rates. Similarly, boys’ future innovation is influenced by the number of male rather than female inventors around them during childhood.

Chicago students participate in an invention workshop meant to encourage
more American students to become engineers and inventors.

Since underrepresented groups are likely to have fewer interactions with inventors through their families and neighborhoods, differences in exposure play a large role in these disparities. Indeed, our findings suggest that if young girls were exposed to female innovators at the same rate as boys are to male innovators, half of the gender gap in innovation would be erased.

Together, our findings call for greater focus on policies and programs to tap into our country’s underutilized talents by increasing exposure to innovation for girls and kids from underprivileged backgrounds. It may be particularly beneficial to focus on children who do well in math and science at early ages.

Such policies could include mentoring programs, internships or even interventions through social networks. At a more personal level, those in positions to be mentors might give more thought to making sure students from underprivileged backgrounds have the guidance needed to follow them in their career paths.

The more each of us does to help boys and girls from different backgrounds achieve their innovative potential, the more it will spur innovation and economic growth for us all.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Brain-Changing Power of Conversation

From Usable Knowledge
by the Harvard Graduate School of Education

February 14, 2018

Interplay between parents and children ignites the brain and boosts its response to language, spurring lasting literacy skills.

For parents, daycare providers, and early educators, new research describes a simple and powerful way to build children’s brains: talk with them, early and often.

A study in Psychological Science shows how conversation — the interplay between a parent or caregiver and a child — ignites the language centers in a child’s brain. It’s the first study to show a relationship between the words children hear at home and the growth of their neural processing capacities — showing, in effect, that how parents talk to their children changes children’s brains.

Don't just talk to your child; talk with your child. The interaction, more than the number of words a child hears, creates measurable changes in the brain and sets the stage for strong literacy skills in school.

This new work — led by Harvard and MIT Ph.D. student Rachel Romeo, with coauthors at both of those institutions and the University of Pennsylvania — builds on what researchers have long known about the connections between “home language environment” and children’s cognitive development, literacy and language growth, and verbal ability.

In the wake of a 1995 study that found a dramatic gap in the number of words heard by high- and low-income children — the so-called 30 million word gap — much attention has been given to efforts to enrich kids’ language exposure. But recent work has added nuance, showing that it’s not so much the quantity of words children hear as the quality that matters.

The new findings replicate that behavioral research on quality over quantity and extend it by showing the effects in the brain. “Specifically, after we equate for socioeconomic status, we find that the sheer number of words spoken by an adult was not related to children's neural processing of language, but that the number of conversational turns was,” says Romeo.

“And that neural response, in turn, predicted children's language skills. It really is the quality of language exposure that matters, over and above the quantity of words dumped onto a child.”

What Parents and Early Educators Should Know
  • From infancy, parents should look for chances to have conversations with their child — even if it's just responding to coos or gurgles.
  • Conversational interplay between caregiver and child is enough to transform the biology of kids' brains. The quality of these exchanges is more important than the quantity of words children hear.
  • Conversation drives literacy skills and cognitive development across all socioeconomic levels, regardless parents' income or education. It's a powerful, actionable, and simple tool for all parents to use.

The Science

Researchers used highly faithful audio recorders — a system called Language Environment Analysis (known as LENA) — to capture every word spoken or heard by 36 4–6 year olds from various socioeconomic backgrounds over two full days. The recordings were analyzed to measure the number of words spoken by each child, the number of words spoken to each child, and the number of conversational turns — back-and-forth exchanges initiated by either adult or child.

Comparing those measurements with brain scans of the individual children, the analysis found that differences in the number of conversational turns accounted for differences in brain physiology, as well as for differences in language skills including vocabulary, grammar, and verbal reasoning.

Read the MIT News story for a fuller summary of the research. (Authors on the paper include Meredith Rowe of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, whose behavioral work has shown the importance of parent-child interplay; Martin West of HGSE, and senior author John Gabrieli of MIT.)

The Takeaways

The “conversational turns” are key here, the researchers say. Conversational interplay — a verbal version of the serve-and-return caregiving that helps kids thrive — “involves not only a linguistic exchange, but also a social interaction that we know is crucial to cognitive development as well,” Romeo says.

This work suggests how important it is that caregivers “not just talk to your child, but talk with them,” says Romeo.

“Even from infancy, we can consider children to be conversational partners. Obviously, a ‘conversation’ looks very different with much younger children: with infants, it might be taking turns exchanging giggles or coos; with toddlers, it might be repeating and expanding their sentences; and with older children, it might be asking ‘who, what, where, and how’ questions.

“Either way, it seems to be the interaction that best supports children's language skills and the underlying neural development.”

Importantly, this research finds effects across all socioeconomic levels. “We found that the brains of children from lower-income families benefitted from conversational interplay just as much as the brains of children from higher income families,” says Gabrieli, the Grover Hermann Professor of Health Sciences and Technology at MIT and an investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research.

Conversing often with one’s children is “strikingly helpful” regardless of income and educational background, he says. As Gabrieli told the MIT News Office, “It’s almost magical how parental conversation appears to influence the biological growth of the brain.”

Gabrieli, Rowe, and other researchers are exploring ways to make these findings — and the actionable takeaways about the importance of conversation — accessible to all families. “Part of this is public health communication, but I expect that more direct forms of support will be needed to promote this and help parents change conversational habits,” Gabrieli says. “It is hard for all of us to change any habit."

Restorative Practices as an Alternative to School Discipline

From Jim Gerl's Special Education Law Blog

By Jim Gerl, Esq.
February 6, 2018

We have written here a number of times about the movement to replace traditional school discipline, which adversely affects students with disabilities, with restorative justice or restorative practices.
  • Here is a reference to the Department of Education blog concerning restorative justice as an alternative to discipline.

A report issued last week by the Education Commission of the States, A Policy Snapshot on Alternative School Discipline Strategies, examines the states use of alternatives to traditional discipline. The report shows that a number of states including Maryland, California, Michigan, Utah and Texas have specifically developed restorative practices alternatives.

Here is an excerpt from the report:

Exclusionary and punitive school discipline policies, such as suspensions and expulsions, allow educators to remove students from the classroom for poor behavior or misconduct. However, emerging research suggests that these practices also increase the likelihood that students repeat grades, are excessively absent from school, drop out entirely and/or get involved with the juvenile justice system.

National data show that historically underserved student groups — such as black students, Native students and students with disabilities— disproportionately experience punitive disciplinary measures in school. For example, while black students comprised 16 percent of public school enrollment, they represented 31 percent of students arrested in school and 27 percent of students referred to law enforcement in the 2011-12 school year.

In an attempt to mitigate these negative impacts, keep students in school and improve overall school climate, many states have opted to explore alternatives to punitive discipline — such as restorative practices and positive behavioral supports and interventions. In general, these practices aim to address the root causes of student misbehavior by building strong and healthy relationships with students and improving their engagement in the learning environment.

Recent state legislation related to the use of alternatives to punitive and exclusionary discipline in schools has primarily addressed three areas of policy:
  • Implementing professional development and training programs for teachers, administrators, school resource officers and other school personnel.
  • Establishing committees to study alternatives to punitive and exclusionary discipline
  • Reducing the use of punitive disciplinary measures by requiring the use of restorative practices, positive behavioral interventions, trauma-informed schools and other strategies in certain circumstances.

You can read the entire six page report here.

A separate report by the Education Commission of the States addresses state efforts to reform school expulsion and suspensions in general. You can read that report here.

Friday, February 16, 2018

NYC’s Special Education Crisis, Where 1 in 4 Families Doesn’t Receive Guaranteed Services and Students Are Forced to Wait 60 Days (or More) for IEP Meetings

From The 74 Million

By Kevin Mahnken
February 13, 2018

Nearly 50,000 New York City students were denied special education services to which they were legally entitled in the 2016–17 school year. More than one-quarter of city children assigned specialized programs didn’t take part in them.

The finding comes from the city Department of Education’s annual report on special education, which was instituted by the City Council two years ago in the wake of mass complaints from parents and advocacy groups.

Individualized Educational Programs, or IEPs, are federally required documents that specify mandated services for students dealing with a range of learning impediments, from deafness to ADHD to autism. The city’s database for tracking the plans — known as the Special Education Student Information System, or SESIS — has been under fire since its unveiling in 2011 for repeated technological mishaps that have caused eligible children to go without necessary resources.

Some 180,000 of New York City’s 1.1 million public school students have IEPs. Of those, 73% are now “fully receiving” their recommended services, while 23% are “partially” receiving services and 4% are receiving none at all, according to the report.

Overall, that represents a 14 percent increase from the district’s performance in 2015–16. But local special education advocacy groups say that the number is still far too low.

Source: New York City Department of Education

“We’re glad to see that the percentage of students fully receiving special education services increased from last year, but 48,000 students with disabilities are still going without special education services they’re entitled to receive under the law,” said Randi Levine, policy coordinator for Advocates for Children of New York.

In the report, the department credits the improvement to a review conducted over the course of the past school year, during which DOE officials gave schools weekly feedback on cases where students weren’t offered programming according to their IEP or where information wasn’t entered correctly into the Special Education Student Information System.

That failure in data collection and tracking has gradually become a scandal in recent years. As the department transitioned from paper IEPs to digital records, the computerized information system was intended to give educators and administrators greater access to critical student data.

But according to a report issued in May, 2017, the effort was hampered with glitches from the start, including one class of user inquiries that failed 800,000 times every day.

Citing long wait times and records that permitted access to only one user at a time, one teacher referred to the database as a “million-dollar Frankenstein” and “a horror.”

Partly in response to those testimonials, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James sued the department in 2016, arguing that the program’s failures had cost New York over $350 million in Medicaid payments. The city is entitled to the money as reimbursement for meeting the education needs of disabled children who are eligible for the government-funded health coverage.

Although observers acknowledge the necessity of an electronic IEP database and have praised the system’s improved performance, some say that the department’s most recent report, released in November, shows that nowhere near enough progress has been made.

“I don’t see anything good,” said Mark Alter, professor of educational psychology at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

“There are two levels to why I find this report disturbing. One, why are we still out of compliance with so many kids? And two, there’s an underlying assumption that we tend not to talk about: For the kids who are getting the services, are appropriate decisions being made?”

Beyond the sheer number of students receiving partial or no accommodations for their special needs, Alter questioned the quality and timeliness of services. For example, over 4,500 students had to wait more than 60 days — roughly one-fifth of a 10-month school year — for an IEP meeting after an initial evaluation during the 2016–17 school year.

An interim of that length seriously threatens learning, Alter warned, adding that it “raises the question of whether these kids are receiving an appropriate education.”

While it’s disappointing that the timeliness of IEP meetings hasn’t really improved, Levine said, the numbers are true to the experience of her organization.

“We get calls every day from families who are struggling to get their children the evaluations they need, the IEP meetings they need, and ultimately the services and special education instruction they need,” she said.

Alter was a graduate student when the landmark Individuals with Disabilities Education Act passed in 1975, guaranteeing a “free appropriate public education” to all students with disabilities. He said he is shocked that even decades later, New York is still failing to fulfill its commitments under the law’s provisions.

“It’s very upsetting and continues to be upsetting. We’re still out of compliance, which means a lot of kids are not getting services, at least on paper, that they’re entitled to,” Alter said. “And why does this problem still persist?”