Search This Blog

Monday, December 18, 2017

CDC Says Developmental Disabilities are on the Rise

From DisabilityScoop

By Shaun Heasley
November 29, 2017

An increasing number of American children have developmental disabilities, the federal government says, even as autism and intellectual disability rates remain largely steady.

New figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
show that more American children have developmental disabilities.

Between 2014 and 2016, the prevalence of developmental disabilities among kids ages 3 to 17 increased from 5.76 percent to 6.99 percent, according to figures released Wednesday from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The rise stems from an uptick in children diagnosed with a developmental delay other than autism or intellectual disability, the federal agency said.

The findings come from data collected through the National Health Interview Survey, a routine in-person government poll soliciting information about all types of health matters from people across the country.

As part of the inquiry, parents were asked if they had ever been told by a doctor or health professional that their child had intellectual disability, autism or any other developmental delay.

Reported rates of autism and intellectual disability remained relatively stable, the report found, even as the overall incidence of developmental disabilities climbed.

Across all conditions, the CDC found that prevalence was “significantly higher” among boys than girls. The diagnoses were least common among Hispanic children compared to other racial or ethnic groups.

“Prevalence among age groups varied by condition, which may reflect recent improvements in awareness and screening for developmental delay, resulting in younger cohorts having a higher diagnosed prevalence,” wrote Benjamin Zablotsky, Lindsey I. Black and Stephen J. Blumberg from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

The rate of developmental disabilities reflected in the report is lower than in some previous findings from the same survey, the CDC noted. But the agency said that current findings are based on a more restrictive definition of developmental disabilities — excluding conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and learning disabilities — than has been used at times in the past.

Charter School Leaders are Complicit with Segregation, and It’s Hurting Their Movement

From The Hechinger Report

By Andre Perry
December 11, 2017

Charter schools didn’t create segregation, but the charter school movement isn’t helping to end it, either.

A charter school in New Orleans. Photo: Cheryl Gerber

When Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must never adjust ourselves to racial segregation,” he wasn’t suggesting that black kids need white kids and teachers in the classroom with them to learn. King was acutely aware that segregation sustains racial inequality in schools and other institutions.

Education reform without an explicit attempt to dismantle the sources of inequality isn’t a moon shot toward justice; it is simply a maladjustment to injustice.

A recent Associated Press analysis of national school enrollment data found that “as of school year 2014-2015, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily.”

A startling number, but the charter school lobby essentially responded with a version of, “So what?”

“Academics, attorneys, and activists can hold any opinion they want about public charter schools and other families’ school choices,” said a spokesperson for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in an official response to the AP story. “In the end, parents’ and students’ opinions are the only ones that matter. And every year, more parents are choosing charter schools.”


New York magazine columnist Jonathan Chait co-signed that dismissal of segregation with a column that essentially argued it’s not really the job of charter schools to change the system of oppression that created schools that perform poorly, “because integrating schools is hard,” and he calls the criticism of increased segregation among charters as merely a “talking point.”

For Chait, rising test scores trump segregation concerns.

In the all-charter district of New Orleans, virtually no (less than one percent) white students attend schools in that have earned a “D” or “F” performance rating.

In the all-charter district of New Orleans — that Chait described at the 2015 anniversary of Hurricane Katrina as “spectacular” in another defense of charters — virtually no (less than one percent) white students attend schools in that have earned a “D” or “F” performance rating. But 77 percent of white students are enrolled in “A-” and “B-” rated schools, according to a new report by non-profit advocacy group Urban League of Louisiana.

It is unthinkable that this situation would be tolerated if the students’ races were reversed. It is clear that segregation, and who gets a quality choice, matters.

My colleagues Richard V. Reeves, Nathan Joo, and Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst at the think tank the Brookings Institution compared the racial composition of country’s public schools to that of the under-18 population of those neighborhoods. They found that schools more or less look like the neighborhoods that host them.

“The average public school is 2.6 percent less white, 1.8 percent more black, 0.9 percent more Hispanic, and 0.3 percent more Asian than its surrounding neighborhood,” according to the study. No surprise there.


The segregated state of our schools helps maintain the inequitable funding that determines families’ educational options. When the government-backed Home Owner’s Loan Corporation developed color-coded maps to sort out who could receive mortgage lending, blacks who lived in the red sections of the map were not given loans.

And of course, the most well-resourced schools just happen to be located in the most expensive neighborhoods.

Giving kids a quality education is an excellent goal. But getting to the source of inequity is real reform.

The Brookings team looked closely at district lines, and they found that if you remove them, many schools become more racially imbalanced. It seems to me that wealthy neighborhoods are using district lines to leverage themselves against demographic shifts.

According to EdBuild, a non-profit focused on school finance issues, the most egregious cases of segregation are shown by the roughly 36 districts that were formed since 2000 as a result of secession — when a school district splits from a larger one. U.S. News & World Report explained the study’s results: “In almost all cases, the communities involved were less diverse and had higher property values than those they left behind.”

The Brookings report found that among the racially imbalanced schools, charters stood out as having a much higher representation of black students. Their imbalance rating is roughly four times that of traditional public schools. (You can see how your school compares through this interactive map). Charters didn’t cause segregation, but they sure aren’t helping matters.

In many cases, school district lines are the more potent Confederate monuments that we still need to take down. Proponents of charter schools say that by disrupting school districts that were largely created along discriminatory and segregated lines, charters improve the number of options you have. And sure, giving kids a quality education is an excellent goal. But getting to the source of inequity is real reform.


In a statement in response to the AP story, Shavar Jeffries, national president of Democrats for Education Reform, said sarcastically, “Apparently, the school segregation problem boils down to Black and Brown parents choosing schools that aren’t White enough, as if the doors of all-White schools would magically open if only they had the good sense to seek to enroll their children in them.”

Our fascination with inclusion is inherently corrupt, because it is born of the misconception that whiter schools are better.

We shouldn’t conflate insincere calls for diversity (read: making schools whiter) with demands to topple segregated schools. Schools should get the resources they need, whether middle-class white students attend them or not. Our fascination with inclusion is inherently corrupt, because it is born of the misconception that whiter schools are better. Jeffries makes this point.

But education reform absent an effort to dismantle segregated schools is equally bad. To blame teachers, parents and district bureaucracy (especially when they are black) is to ignore the history of how schools became depressed. To dismiss segregation is to accept structural inequality and the status quo.

We’ve simply given up on the radical idea of integrating schools. The last major effort occurred in 2007, in the Supreme Court case Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1. The court ruled that Seattle and Louisville school districts’ efforts to desegregate/integrate schools by using individuals’ race to place students in schools were unconstitutional. The “diverse by design” coalition, a group of deliberately integrated schools that poses more of a threat to structural inequality, offers some hope.

The AP study pointed to the right problem with charter schools: an overrepresentation of black and brown students. As the AP report states, “[L]evels of segregation correspond with low achievement levels at schools of all kinds.” What the AP report, Chait and some charter advocates haven’t said is how willing we are to experiment on the lives of black students and black-majority school districts instead of doing the hard work to eradicate the causes of segregation.

Make no mistake, segregated schools of the past and present are a result of horrible policy choices that most people are willing to accept. There is a reason that after more than 20 years, the research is mixed on charter schools. Schools in black and brown communities were built on broken foundations — i.e., segregation. By not addressing segregation, reformers are turning off the stove when the house is going up in flames.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.

Read more about education in New Orleans.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Betsy DeVos and the Soft Bigotry of Low ESSA Expectations

From Real Clear Education

By Anne Hyslop
December 14, 2017

As Senator Lamar Alexander explained it, the driving force behind the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was that “everybody from the teachers' unions to the governors to the school boards were irate at being told so many things to do from Washington about how to educate children.”

If that’s true, boy did ESSA deliver. Two years later, the issue is no longer faraway D.C. bureaucrats telling states what to do. The issue is states aren’t telling Washington what they’re doing.

That’s the takeaway from the second round of independent reviews of state ESSA plans released by Bellwether Education Partners and the Collaborative for Student Success. As an external consultant working with the Bellwether team, our reviews focused on some of the most critical areas of ESSA: how states plan to set up accountability systems that provide clear information about schools, based on multiple measures, to parents and the public and how they identify and support the lowest-performing schools and schools with struggling subgroups.

These provisions lie at the heart of ESSA’s promise to help every student succeed. Yet across all states – the 17 that submitted plans in April and the 34 in September – the reviews “found state ESSA plans to be mostly uncreative, unambitious, unclear, or unfinished.”

Reasonable people can disagree over what’s “ambitious,” but it’s hard to deny there’s a problem if states don’t provide basic information about how they’re meeting core requirements in the law.

Here are a few examples:
  • In Florida, one in 10 students are English learners, yet the state doesn’t identify a single non-English language spoken to a significant extent and omits English learners’ language proficiency from its A-F school grading system. Here's another head-scratcher: Florida defines a “consistently underperforming subgroup” in a way that isn’t even based on subgroup results.
  • New Hampshire conveniently left out that a new state law prohibits it from requiring annual testing in third through eighth grades – a key tenet of ESSA – and doesn’t describe how it will procure a new test in 2018 or convince districts to administer it.
  • Virginia will set aside nearly $16.8 million annually for interventions that are supposed to be “evidence-based,” yet the state’s plan for accountability and school improvement doesn’t actually use the word “evidence,” let alone explain how it will support districts in identifying evidence-based strategies.
  • Texas’s method for including subgroup results in its A-F school grades is described in three sentences (three!) of its plan. This Closing the Gaps component “ensures students are doing well regardless of racial group, special education status, and socioeconomic status for all indicators required by state law and ESSA.” How, exactly, it ensures that is left off the page.

Missing details in the first set of plans were, perhaps, understandable. The Obama administration’s ESSA regulations and related state plan template had been rescinded only weeks before plans were due – leaving significant confusion about the process. But that shouldn’t have been an issue for states in September who had the benefit of more time and learning from the first group of states. What gives?

Rather than putting their ingenuity, willingness and ability to lead on full display, many states seem to have deliberately submitted as little as possible. On one hand, I can’t blame them. More details could invite more feedback and negotiations with the Department of Education (ED) prior to approval.

More details could mean more areas for future federal monitoring or open up the state to additional criticism from political opponents closer to home. More details could also mean more revisions to the plan down the line as policies change.

But on the other hand, it lays bare a troubling reality: The Trump administration simply doesn’t care about compliance with many of the law’s provisions, let alone recognize that states may need help to implement them.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos seems to have adopted a “trust, and don’t bother to verify” attitude. In fact, one state leader admitted that the secretary “stressed local control, and told state chiefs in a closed-door meeting to hand in their plans even if they weren't totally complete.”

Her words have translated into action – or lack thereof – from the department. On top of repealing the regulations, the revised and hastily drafted new template not only stripped out references to the ill-fated rules but also questions related to key statutory requirements, from stakeholder consultation to how states plan on spending $1 billion in school improvement funds – lowering the bar for approval.

Frequently asked questions about ESSA’s accountability provisions are buried under a disclaimer on ED’s website and haven’t been updated – forcing states, districts, advocates and stakeholders to go plan by plan, and letter by letter, to decipher how the law is being interpreted. Questions like how science can be included are being answered by journalists, even though they could easily be addressed in an official FAQ document. That would provide a transparent, verified source of information that everyone benefits from, not just those having private conversations with ED.

But despite approving 16 of the 17 plans from April, the Department hasn’t issued a single piece of policy guidance to help explain why changes were needed in submitted plans or to highlight areas of promising practice.

In fact, a survey released this week by the Center on Education Policy (CEP) found that a majority of states reported that available federal guidance wasn’t enough or was short on detail. It’s no wonder states delivered bare-bones plans when this is all they had to go on.

The response from some states – submitting the bare minimum to pass muster – inspires little confidence that states are prepared for the responsibilities and flexibilities ESSA gives them, especially when coupled with findings like those in the CEP survey that one-third (or fewer) of states said they had sufficient capacity to carry out ESSA’s school improvement requirements.

But even if we give states the benefit of the doubt and assume the details are nailed down somewhere else, the problem remains that the department doesn’t think it’s a problem to expect so little of states.

That’s why outside reviews, like the one from Bellwether and the Collaborative, are so important. They help fill the information gaps the department refuses to address. ESSA ultimately won’t be judged by words on paper but by what happens in classrooms – whether more students are on track to college- and career-readiness, whether achievement gaps are closing and whether low-performing schools are improving. And where they are, we need to understand what states are doing to create those conditions.

States may not trust the department enough to give them more detailed information, and ED may have too much blind faith that states will follow the law, but someone – whether it’s journalists, advocacy groups, think tanks or all of the above – needs to both trust and verify what’s happening under ESSA.

Anne Hyslop is an independent consultant and former senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education.

New Orleans: What Do We Do Now? We Focus on Solutions

From New Schools for New Orleans

By Patrick Dobard
December 13, 2017

Out of the 200 largest school districts in the United States, there is no city serving primarily black students that outperforms New Orleans on academic growth. This was recently highlighted in The New York Times. In 2015, Tulane’s Education Research Alliance said that they were not “aware of any other districts that have made such large improvements in such a short time.”

Over the last two years, however, our results have been disappointing. For the first time, statewide academic performance outpaced New Orleans and now one of every three public school students attends a D or F rated school.

We have done more than what most thought possible. And not done nearly enough.

So what do we do now? We focus on solutions and we double-down on our commitment to the students and families we serve.

New Schools for New Orleans has identified three core strategies to address the root causes of our recent performance. Our work is one part of a greater citywide effort. We are grateful to the partners we work with—and acknowledge those outstanding organizations that will tackle other critical issues facing our city’s young people. This is a team effort and we must rise together.

#1: We will help schools make the instructional shifts necessary to meet more rigorous standards.

The Louisiana Department of Education (LDE) has developed such a comprehensive, coherent curriculum that education leaders from Milwaukee are blogging about the positive impact it has had for their schools.

Districts across the state were more disciplined in their implementation of these resources. Their performance improved, while New Orleans’ stagnated. Based on our work with schools and the district, we believe only a third of elementary schools are using fully aligned curricula for English Language Arts and only one in five high schools are using aligned math curricula.

Overhauling a school or networks’ curriculum is complex and cost intensive work. Fortunately, the federal Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides a framework for NSNO to collaborate with LDE and local leadership to support schools to make these changes. Through this collaboration and the support of national experts, we will dramatically increase the number of schools using the state’s tier 1 (fully aligned) curriculum starting now.

We will invest in schools and partner with OPSB to improve the quality of New Orleans school options.

A New Orleans family had a slightly more than one-in-ten chance to get their child into a top performing school in 2004. Those chances are much better today; over one-in-three families now send their child to an A or B school. This is notable progress, but too many families still do not have a good option.

To address this, we will invest in educators to launch new schools with a promising approach, expand high-performing schools, or turnaround failing schools. There also remains a strong likelihood that within the next few years several schools will fall short of their renewal bar. NSNO will work with the district and partner organizations to ensure students in these schools are supported and get the opportunity to attend a higher performing school.

We will take an active role in coordinating solutions to the city’s teacher recruitment and retention challenges.

Each year, New Orleans schools need to hire nearly 900 teachers. Like most urban school districts, about 20% of our workforce leaves the classroom annually. Left unaddressed, teacher recruitment and retention deficits will limit our ability to make sustainable progress.

In November, we joined Xavier University, Loyola University, Teach For America, teachNOLA/TNTP, and the Relay Graduate School of Education to announce a collaborative effort to recruit and train 900 new teachers by 2021.

As Dr. Renee Akbar, the Chair and Associate Professor of Xavier University’s Division of Education and Counseling, acknowledged during the press conference—now is the time to put aside past ideological differences and come together as a city.

We are also working with experts on teacher retention to identify how our schools—and the city—could make teaching a more sustainable career choice. From teacher pay and working conditions to tax relief and housing subsidies—we need to explore all potential opportunities to support our teachers.

We are resilient.

Turning around one of the lowest performing school districts in the country, in a city with generations of inequity, is not a five or ten year project. It is challenging work filled with inevitable stumbles. But when we falter, we do what we have done for our 300 year history. We get up. We find solutions. We address the challenges in front of us.

This is what we have done and that is what we will continue to do to better the life outcomes of our young people. No matter what lies in front of us, my faith remains with our families, our students, our educators, and our ability to once again prove what is possible for kids in New Orleans.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

How Washington Winks at Violent Discipline of Special Needs Kids

From Politico Magazine

By Ben Hattem
November 29, 2017

The Department of Education is supposed to keep track of such incidents, but it lets schools slide on reporting. Critics fear the situation will get worse under Betsy DeVos.

Kaden Perrizo was 11 years old when he entered an “orthopedic impaired” class at Taylor Elementary in Santa Clara, California. Kaden suffered an immune system disease as a toddler that left him unable to walk without leg braces or to speak more than a few words; his parents say he functions cognitively like a 4-year-old.

His teacher, according to allegations set forth in a lawsuit brought by Kaden's parents on his behalf, tied him to a chair. He was also confined in a 3-by-4-foot cell made of bookshelves. The lawsuit also alleges that the school turned a blind eye to the teacher's conduct until a staff member sent an anonymous four-page email to supervisors.

But as far as the federal government is concerned, none of what Kaden endured ever happened.

That’s because the incidents were not reported to the Department of Education as required by law. During the 2013-14 school year, both Taylor Elementary and Santa Clara County Special Education, which runs classes like the one Kaden was in, reported no restraints and no seclusions. The county office, while admitting no wrongdoing, settled the case last year for $2 million and ordered the teacher and the principal to undergo child abuse and reporting training.

In response to a request for comment, the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s chief public affairs officer, Peter Daniels, noted that the settlement did not admit guilt and that the teacher denies the allegations.

Every two years, the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights sends a survey to all public and charter schools in the country asking for data about academic and disciplinary issues. It’s the only national reporting requirement for restraint and seclusion, techniques that are disproportionately used on special education students.

Special education teachers can encounter a wide range of behaviors that stem from their students’ disabilities and can be difficult to handle, but they may respond too often with physical restraints and seclusion instead of less invasive techniques. Lawmakers and advocates rely on this data to understand the scope of the problem and to target problematic schools. But an analysis by POLITICO of the survey data, and interviews with dozens of advocates across the country, show that the numbers are dramatically underreported and schools are not held accountable.

One such school is PACE East, a special education school near Manassas in northern Virginia. According to entries on a “behavior intervention log” kept by the school and reviewed by POLITICO, in 2011, a student was held face down on the floor for throwing his breakfast in the trash—a type of restraint prohibited in many states because it has caused multiple children to choke to death.

In another incident, according to the log that was cited in a discrimination complaint filed with the federal Office for Civil Rights, a student was held in a locked room for about five hours until he urinated on himself.

During the 2011-12 year, staff at PACE East secluded or physically restrained students a total of 144 times, according to a letter of findings to the plaintiffs’ lawyers from the Office for Civil Rights about its investigation. But when it came time to report the number of times children had been restrained or secluded, as required by federal law, the school submitted a very different number: zero. Two years later, PACE East again reported no restraints and seclusions. So did all other 88 otherschools in the Prince William County district.

PACE East referred questions to the school district. In an email, the district’s associate superintendent for communications and technology services, Phil Kavits, said the incidents were alleged and not proven. He acknowledged that the Office for Civil Rights “did conclude that some types [of] interventions occurred too frequently,” and that the county “worked successfully through a Resolution Agreement to reduce those interventions.”

Kavits said the schools reported zeros at the direction of the Education Department because they didn’t have the ability to transmit the data in an electronic format. (The Office for Civil Rights disputes that those were the instructions it gave.) Prince William County explained in an accompanying comment to the department that the zero indicated the data were unavailable. But there’s no way a member of the public would know that zero didn’t actually mean zero, because there’s no such explanation in the report.

The district’s across-the-board zeros aren’t anomalies. Nationally, about 12 percent of public schools reported any use of restraints on special education students to the Education Department in the most recent survey, and about 4 percent reported seclusions. New York and Chicago—major cities with huge student populations—reported none.

The data appear even spottier in charter schools. Four percent of the 6,000-plus charter schools nationwide reported any restraints for special education students to the most recent federal survey, and 1 percent reported seclusions.

“What we know about restraint and seclusion at the federal level is inadequate,” says Michael Yudin, a former head of the Education Department’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, who worked for the department for six years under President Barack Obama. “By all accounts, it’s woefully understated.”

According to a top official involved in reviewing the data, the Education Department has been aware the data are incomplete from the very first time the department surveyed schools about restraint and seclusion, which the Department of Education defines as a restriction that "immobilizes or reduces the ability of a student to move his or her torso, arms, legs or head freely" and "the confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving."

In an email, Education Department press secretary Liz Hill acknowledged that the department “is aware that erroneous data may be reported, and some inconsistencies may be included in the dataset.” But little has changed.

Advocates fear that an already broken system will only get worse under the new administration of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a longtime champion of charter schools, which depend on public tax dollars but often don’t answer to local school boards. Although she hasn’t spoken specifically on the use of restraint and seclusion (and the Education Department declined to make her available for comment), DeVos has signaled that her department might roll back protections for special education students. Most restraint and seclusion protections stem from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)—the federal law, dating to 1975, that requires publicly funded schools to serve students with special needs.

During her confirmation hearings, DeVos suggested that IDEA requirements should be “left to the states,” which often don’t have the resources of a federal agency; when pressed during the hearing, she added that she might have been confused about whether IDEA was a federal act.

In June, the Office for Civil Rights, which both administers the data collections and handles allegations of excessive restraint and seclusion, decided to narrow its approach to investigating complaints. Candice Jackson, the acting head of the OCR, announced in a memo obtained by ProPublica that investigators should no longer look for schoolwide problems—unless there is reason for “systemic concerns”—but focus on individual incidents instead, an enforcement strategy that one critic likened to “whack-a-mole.”

And in July, DeVos announced that the Office for Civil Rights would scale back its use of so-called “Dear Colleague” letters, a form of nonbinding guidance that the Obama-era civil rights office used to expand protections for special education students, especially those in charter schools.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has signaled that her department may
roll back protections for special-education students. | AP

Before becoming secretary of education, DeVos led or was on the board of several organizations that advocated for voucher programs to help public school students move into private schools. Voucher programs, including those pushed by an organization DeVos chaired called the American Federation for Children, often require parents to waive their children’s IDEA rights as a condition of eligibility, potentially leaving disabled children without many accommodations, in segregated classrooms, or subject to expulsion without due process or recourse.

“Basically, you can either go to a public school or you can sign away your rights,” says longtime education attorney Diane Smith Howard.

Smith Howard has worked extensively with the federal data collection. She and other advocates worry that DeVos’ Education Department will stop gathering some of the data or simply end the survey altogether. The final decision is still pending, although press secretary Hill noted in an email that the funding for the collection has not changed since DeVos took the reins of the department.

“We have a Congress and an administration that view this basically as a burden rather than helpful,” says Eric Buehlmann, head of policy advocacy for the National Disability Rights Network, a nonprofit membership organization of federally mandated agencies that advocate for people with disabilities. “But if you don’t know what’s really occurring out there, it’s hard to marshal your resources on where the most help is needed.”

* * * * *

Until January 2009, the federal government didn’t pay much attention to the use of restraint and seclusion in schools. That year, the National Disability Rights Network released a bombshell report arguing that inadequate regulations had led to the deaths of several children who were held face down on the floor. Prone restraints had been banned in psychiatric hospitals that get federal funds after a 1998 Hartford Courant series exposed their danger, but the technique was still allowed in schools in almost every state.

A few months later, the Government Accountability Office released its own report, “Selected Cases of Death and Abuse at Public and Private Schools and Treatment Centers,” revealing “hundreds of cases of alleged abuse and death.” When the reports came out, 19 states did not regulate restraints at all, and only five banned dangerous prone restraints, according to the NDRN report.

The Education Department quickly added restraint and seclusion to its survey to gather data on the scope of the problem. Sunil Mansukhani, a deputy assistant secretary in the Office for Civil Rights from 2009-12, helped implement the federal data collection and expanded it later in his tenure to cover every public and charter school in the country. From the beginning, he says he was taken aback by the number of schools that seemed to be sending inaccurate numbers.

“When the data came in, it became very clear that a lot of districts were underreporting,” he says. “A whole bunch of zeros just flies in the face of reality.”

Although it’s clear that the federal numbers are flawed, it’s difficult to pinpoint how extensive the underreporting is. But it’s possible to get a good clue by looking at data from the few states that have implemented their own surveys. The difference between the state and federal surveys indicates a significant reality gap.

Since 2012, Connecticut state law has required every school that provides special education to record incidents of restraint and seclusion, and has made the state Department of Education produce annual reports based on those records. For the 2013-14 school year, the most recent year for which federal data are also available, Connecticut found that about 28 students were restrained out of every 1,000 served under IDEA, the federal special education law. In the federal data collection for that year, the nationwide data showed about 8 students getting restrained out of every 1,000 IDEA students.

For charter schools alone, the nationwide reported rate dropped to fewer than 4 students per 1,000. If Connecticut’s numbers are representative of the national rate, it appears that more than 70 percent of restraints used on special education students in public schools are not reported to the federal government, and more than 85 percent in charters.

In Louisiana, where New Orleans holds the country’s most charter-dense school district, a law passed in 2016 required the state Department of Education to publicly release detailed annual breakdowns of each school system’s use of restraint and seclusion. “The reporting from what I’ve seen is light years better than what I’d seen the previous year,” says state Senator Jack Donahue, a Republican from the New Orleans area who introduced the legislation.

A POLITICO analysis of the 2015-16 data, released under Donahue’s law, found that seven of the 10 school systems statewide that used the most restraints and seclusions per special education student were charter school companies in New Orleans. At one charter school, Success Preparatory Academy, a single student was restrained or secluded 160 times. In the previous federal survey, from 2013-14, that same school had reported zero uses of restraints and seclusions on special education students.

Success Preparatory Academy referred questions to the Recovery School District, Louisiana’s statewide charter school district. Sydni Dunn, press secretary for the Recovery School District, acknowledged the data found by POLITICO were correct but noted in an emailed statement that staff members who use restraint and seclusion are required by state law to be certified in the practice, and that restraints and seclusion are “used by trained staff judiciously and rarely.”

Elsewhere in the country, reporting requirements have gone backward. In 2013, California’s state government repealed a law that mandated reporting of “behavior emergencies,” which would include the use of restraints. “In the three years before the repeal, California reported more than 20,000 incidents of interventions [annually],” says Leslie Morrison, the director of Disability Rights California’s investigations unit, although she believes the reports missed many incidents. “We think it is at least double what was being reported.”

When schools are left to monitor themselves, the results can be grave. In Kentucky in 2014, a 16-year-old autistic student had both his legs broken by a school staff member who was holding him down—the school district ultimately paid the student’s family $1.75 million even before a lawsuit was filed.

In Louisiana, a 5-year-old girl died in May 2010 while strapped into a chair for people with disabilities. A lawsuit by her parents won a $4.5 million judgment against the school district, but the school system’s administration called her death an “isolated incident” and did not change the district’s policies. The incident wasn’t reported to the federal data collection that year.

Melissa Keyes of Indiana Disability Rights, where a local news investigation found several Indiana school districts that misreported their restraint and seclusion numbers, points out that laws protecting students from dangerous restraints are hard to enforce if the incidents aren’t reported. “Prone restraints are specifically prohibited, but anecdotally we know they’re still happening,” she says. “The problem is we really don’t know the extent of what happens. Unless a child comes forward, we have no idea.”

* * * * *

The school district perhaps most in need of oversight is the one in the backyard of DeVos’ new office. Washington, D.C., is one of the nation’s most charter-dense school districts, but the city’s charter schools, which educate close to half the students in the district, operate without guidelines when it comes to restraint and seclusion.

Kindergarten students at Democracy Prep Congress Heights, a
charter school in Washington, D.C., listen while their teacher speaks.
Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Traditional public schools in the district have robust guidelines that give detailed definitions of seclusion and different kinds of restraints, lay out conditions for when they can be used, and explain the procedures for documenting and reporting restraints and seclusion. Charters in the district, on the other hand, are overseen by two agencies, the D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB) and a 10-year-old agency called the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), neither of which claims responsibility for regulating restraint and seclusion in charter schools.

The District’s PCSB has a two-page document that explicitly notes the board “does not dictate the specific course of action in school discipline plans.” It contains a list of “tips and reminders” for charters creating their own discipline plans, and it doesn’t mention restraint or seclusion.

According to a lawsuit filed on behalf of her parents in the U.S. District Court in D.C. in April, Abagail was 3 years old and could barely see or speak because of disabilities stemming from brain damage at birth when three teachers aides and one teacher in her pre-K classroom at Bridges Public Charter School in Washington put her on a cot, piled bean bag chairs on top of her, and put their feet on the bean bags to hold her down during nap time. The lawsuit also alleges that Abagail, whose last name is being withheld at the request of her parents, screamed throughout the 2015 ordeal, which happened several times that year. She allegedly became anxious and fearful, and the complaint suggests her intellectual capacities regressed.

In other instances alleged in the lawsuit, an autistic child was grabbed by the throat and pushed into a bookcase, another was carried upside down by his feet, and a child with Down syndrome was dragged on the floor by one arm to the bathroom. These incidents only came to light because a new teacher at the school contacted the police, according to the complaint. The school’s lawyers have denied the allegations.

In an email to POLITICO, Olivia Smith, Bridges’ founder and head of school, said that Bridges “immediately and thoroughly investigates any and all allegations of abuse.” She reiterated Bridges’ denial of the allegations in the lawsuit and said the school “looks forward to the opportunity to fully exonerate itself.” The lawsuit is ongoing.

“Charter schools get to write their own disciplinary code, and they can be as little as one page,” says Maria Blaeuer, an attorney with Advocates for Justice and Education, a family advocacy nonprofit in D.C. “In a lot of ways,” she adds, “it’s a political problem. OSSE is a new agency, it’s small, it doesn’t have a lot of political clout.”

If neither agency is enforcing regulations about the use of restraint and seclusion, it’s no surprise that they are not keeping good raw data either. The D.C. charter board said it doesn’t keep data on restraint and seclusion. The only documents it keeps that describe such cases are complaints from parents and families when they feel their children have been improperly restrained or secluded. The board found 43 complaints from 2011 to 2016, but it declined to release them to POLITICO to protect students’ confidentiality.

“Charters here operate under a regulatory framework that goes so far back into the mists of time, it essentially lets them operate in their own way and does not include public access to individual schools' records,” says Fritz Mulhauser, who spent two decades as an attorney with the ACLU’s D.C. affiliate. “The charters are rabidly politically active, and they fend off any political movement toward regulation that they think goes too far.”

In June, OSSE released a notice of proposed rules that would, among other regulations, sharply limit the use of restraints and seclusion for special education students in public schools in the district, including charter schools. In response to a request for comment, OSSE pointed POLITICO to the proposed regulations and said the agency intends to finalize the rules in time for the 2018-19 school year. It’s unclear whether PCSB, which in the past has held that OSSE does not have authority to regulate D.C.’s charter schools, will go along with the proposed rules.

In an email responding to questions about the new regulations, PCSB’s chief communications officer, Tomeika Bowden, said the agency was “unable to comment,” adding that PCSB would consent to the rules “as long as the final regulations are consistent with OSSE’s authority.”

Jamia Morrow helps her son, King Norris, with his homework. King, who turned 9
on November 4, told staff at his previous school, Achievement Prep, that he wanted
to kill himself following punishments in which he was regularly locked into a repurposed
closet there when he was a first grader. Allison Shelley for Politico Magazine

Without meaningful regulation at the local level, the protection of children in D.C.’s charter schools, among the biggest charter networks in the country, is left entirely up to the federal government and the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. And with the department’s increasingly hands-off approach and longtime unwillingness to enforce its reporting requirements, the schools are almost entirely unregulated.

“They’re just not doing the reporting that they’re supposed to be doing,” says Blaeuer. “It’s the Wild West.”

In an email, press secretary Hill said the Office for Civil Rights has “worked to ensure the CRDC was as comprehensive as possible, thus reducing the impact of errors or omissions from any individual school or district.”

The Office for Civil Rights sent letters to the 135 districts that didn’t submit data, but aside from those letters and a few other steps in egregious cases—for example, when every school in Florida submitted zeros to the 2013-14 survey—the department hasn’t pursued the vast majority of non-reporting districts. The only other option for the department to punish non-reporters would be to cut off federal dollars.But it never does that.

“The Office [for] Civil Rights says it can’t withhold federal funds to all the districts that don’t report,” says Dan Losen, a researcher at UCLA who analyzes school discipline data from the federal survey. “They only have one substantive option … which is withholding all federal funds. They can’t withhold part. It’s the nuclear option.”

“The quality of the CRDC depends on accurate collection and reporting by the participating districts,” said Hill. She added that each district superintendent or someone they designate is required to certify the accuracy of the district’s data.

Enforcement of the rules requiring schools to report their data falls to a few hundred employees in the Office for Civil Rights, who are also responsible for enforcing schools’ compliance with all other federal anti-discrimination laws. The latest budget proposal for the Education Department included funding for the Civil Rights Data Collection, to the relief of many advocates who feared it might be removed altogether, but the budget also cut 46 full-time-equivalent positions from the Office for Civil Rights.

And as staffing shrinks, so does the Department of Education’s ability to investigate potentially systemic violations of civil rights. Mansukhani, the former deputy assistant secretary in the Office for Civil Rights, says DeVos’ focus on investigating individual incidents rather than schoolwide issues puts “the onus of vindicating students’ civil rights on students or parents instead of the government agency that would really know what’s happening in the school or district.”

This lack of oversight in Washington’s charters was an unwelcome shock to Jamia Morrow, who says her son King Norris had been doing well in school until he arrived as a first grader at Achievement Preparatory Academy in the Washington Highlands neighborhood in the fall of 2014. The school ranks highly for standardized test scores, and Morrow wanted her son, who has been diagnosed with behavioral issues, to be somewhere that would keep him academically challenged.

Lewis Bossing, senior attorney at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law,
which brought a case forward against a charter school in D.C. alleging repeated
use of restraints and seclusion. Allison Shelle
y for Politico Magazine

Soon after the school year started, according to allegations in an administrative complaint brought against Achievement Prep with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education in 2015, King began having trouble with another student, who King said was picking on him. King was suspended for physical aggression, and his teachers took him away from class frequently to spend time in the school’s “crisis room,” said Lewis Bossing, an attorney who works for the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, which filed the complaint.

Bossing says that several parents told his colleague that the school’s crisis room was essentially a repurposed closet—a piece of paper covered the only window on the door. “Consider holding a young child in the closet at a school,” he says.

After a stint in the crisis room, King allegedly told school staff that he wanted to kill himself because he was tired of being picked on by other students and grabbed by his teachers, according to Morrow and the complaint. In total, Morrow says her son was held in the closet about 50 times that year, including eight times in one week. When she got his behavioral records from the school, she says, “they gave me 40 pages of documents just showing times” he was put in the crisis room after November 2014. The sheer volume of the records shocked her.

POLITICO reviewed some of these documents, called “crisis intervention restraint incident reports,” and found that over one three-week period, King was put into the crisis room 16 times. When asked about these alleged incidents, Achievement Prep’s founder and CEO Shantelle Wright wrote in an email that “the allegations are unsubstantiated and completely without merit.” Wright added that the school “conducted a thorough investigation” after the complaint was filed. (These incidents took place in the fall of 2014, and would not have appeared in the 2013-14 report to the Department of Education reviewed by POLITICO.)

Administrators from Achievement Prep said they stopped using the crisis room after the complaint was filed, according to an interview with Bossing. The school signed a settlement agreement a month later that required teacher training on how to handle special education students, including a session on “positive behavioral interventions.” Under the settlement, the school admitted no liability or wrongdoing; no financial payment was requested.

In the past, people inside the Education Department have wanted better systems for reporting and enforcement. Sue Swenson was the deputy assistant secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services from 2010 until the end of the Obama administration.

Years ago, she said, she toured a school in Minneapolis that had a seclusion room where kids spent so much time that they had carved their names into the walls. “For a long time, I’ve thought this was a pretty barbaric practice,” she said. “Once you see one, it’s nauseating.”

Ben Hattem is a writer in California. With reporting by Sharon J. Riley. This article was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

School Exacerbates Feelings of Being 'Different' in Pupils with Autism Spectrum Conditions

From the University of Surrey
via ScienceDaily

By Natasha Meredith
November 16, 2017

Negative school experiences can have harmful long term effects on pupils with Autism Spectrum Conditions, a new study in the journal Autism reports.

Researchers from the University of Surrey have discovered that experiences of social and emotional exclusion in mainstream schools can adversely affect how pupils with autism view themselves, increasing their risk of developing low self-esteem, a poor sense of self-worth and mental health problems.

Examining 17 previous studies in the area, researchers discovered that how pupils with autism view themselves is closely linked to their perceptions of how other's treat and interact with them. They found that a tendency of many pupils with the condition to internalise the negative attitudes and reactions of others toward them, combined with unfavourable social comparisons to classmates, leads to a sense of being 'different' and more limited than peers.

Negative self-perception can lead to increased isolation and low self-esteem, making pupils with autism more susceptible to mental health problems.

It was discovered that the physical environment of schools can impact on children's ability to interact with other pupils. Sensory sensitivity, which is a common characteristic of autism and can magnify sounds to an intolerable level, can lead to everyday classroom and playground noises such as shrieks and chatter being a source of anxiety and distraction. This impacts on a pupil's ability to concentrate in the classroom and to socialise with others, further increasing isolation and a sense of being 'different.'

It was also found that pupils with autism who developed supportive friendships and felt accepted by classmates said this helped alleviate their social difficulties and made them feel good about themselves.

These findings suggest it is crucial for schools to create a culture of acceptance for all pupils to ensure the long term well-being of pupils with autism in mainstream settings.

Lead author of the paper Dr Emma Williams, from the University of Surrey, said: "Inclusive mainstream education settings may inadvertently accentuate the sense of being 'different' in a negative way to classmates.

"We are not saying that mainstream schools are 'bad' for pupils with autism, as other evidence suggests they have a number of positive effects, including increasing academic performance and social skills.

"Rather, we are suggesting that by cultivating a culture of acceptance of all and making small changes, such as creating non-distracting places to socialise, and listening to their pupils' needs, schools can help these pupils think and feel more positively about themselves.

"With over 100,000 children in the UK diagnosed with autism, it is important that we get this right to ensure that pupils with autism get the education they deserve and leave school feeling accepted, loved and valued, rather than with additional mental health issues."

Journal Reference
  • Emma I Williams, Kate Gleeson, Bridget E Jones. How pupils on the autism spectrum make sense of themselves in the context of their experiences in a mainstream school setting: A qualitative metasynthesis. Autism, 2017; 136236131772383 DOI: 10.1177/1362361317723836

Friday, December 15, 2017

New Report: School Resource Officers, Girls of Color and the School-to-Prison Pipeline

From the Schott Foundation for Public Education

December 12, 2017

Schools across the country increasingly rely on school-based police officers. Today, there are an estimated 30,000 officers now in schools, up from roughly 100 in the 1970s. Although the stated purpose of these officers is to maintain a sense of safety, a very troubling consequence is greater arrest rates and referrals for minor disruptive behaviors — with especially harsh results for girls of color.

According to 2013-2014 data from the U.S. Department of Education, Black girls are 2.6 times as likely to be referred to law enforcement on school grounds as white girls, and black girls are almost 4 times as likely to get arrested at school. Disparities affecting Latinas are especially severe in elementary school where they are 2.7 times more likely to be arrested than young white girls.

In light of this data, schools and districts must work to improve interactions between girls of color and school resource officers (SROs), striving to keep girls of color safe and supported in schools and reduce disproportionate rates of contact in the justice system.

Schott Foundation is pleased to partner with the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality in the wide distribution of Be Her Resource: A Toolkit about School Resource Officers and Girls of Color, to districts, police departments, community, parent and student advocates across the country.

The toolkit, developed by National Black Women’s Justice Institute and Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, is centered on first-of-their-kind focus groups and interviews with SROs and girls to learn first-hand perspectives about their interactions. The research was focused on the South, an area often overlooked in related research.

The report offers strategies and much needed guidance based on the findings to improve relations between SROs and girls of color at schools.

The report finds that fewer than half of all states require SROs to receive youth-specific training, and, in particular, that SROs receive little, if any, training focused on girls of color, nor supports in the form of relevant community resources.

Meanwhile, the line between criminal law and disciplinary codes have become blurred, given SROs’ wide discretion in carrying out their duties, and the lack of formal agreements between school departments and police departments that could clarify roles. The new report finds that only 19 states require such agreements.

Report key findings include:
  • SROs described their most important function as ensuring safety and responding to criminal behavior, yet they report that educators routinely ask them to respond to disciplinary matters.
  • SROs do not receive regular training or other supports specific to interactions with girls of color.
  • SROs attempt to modify the behavior and appearance of girls of color to conform with mainstream cultural norms, urging them to act more “ladylike.”
  • Girls of color primarily define the role of SROs as maintaining school safety -- but they define their sense of safety as being built on communication and positive, respectful relationships with SROs.
  • African-American girls, in particular, identify racial bias as a factor in SROs’ decision-making process. African-American girls perceive that their racial identity negatively affects how SROs respond to them on campus.

Based on these findings, and with an eye to advancing action, the report presents guiding principles and policy recommendations that are designed to improve interactions between girls of color and SROs, with the ultimate goal of reducing these girls’ disproportionate rates of contact with the juvenile justice system.

Key recommendations for school districts and police departments include:
  • Clearly delineate law enforcement roles and responsibilities in formal agreements.
  • Collect and review data that can be disaggregated by race and gender.
  • Implement non-punitive, trauma-informed responses to girls of color.
  • Offer specialized training to officers and educators on race and gender issues and children’s mental health.

The report is part of a policy series conducted by Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty aimed at reducing unfairly punitive treatment of girls of color. “Girlhood Interrupted,” released by the Center in June, found that adults view black girls as young as 5 years old as less innocent and less in need of protection than white peers, which may lead to harsher treatment by authorities.

The report’s detailed recommendations, which include providing officers with training to address adultification bias, are accompanied by hopeful examples of jurisdictions around the country that have taken steps to improve interactions between SROs and girls of color.