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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Ready To Be Counted: Why Non-Cognitive Skills Must be Incorporated into Ed Policy, Practice

From Real Clear Education

By Chris Gabrieli
January 26, 2016

The enactment of the Every Student Succeeds Act reinvigorates a discussion as old as education itself – what skills do schools need to foster to enable students to succeed in life?


U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, co-chair of the Senate Career & Technical Education
(CTE) Caucus, looks at Christmas ornament presented to him by a Head Start class
for three-year-olds at the Original Walker-Grant school in Fredericksburg, VA, on
Tuesday, Dec.15, 2015. Kaine toured the school and spoke about the importance
of early learning and the recent passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)
that will replace No Child Left Behind. (Dave Ellis/The Free Lance-Star via AP)

The new ESSA law enables and requires all 50 states to develop their own accountability frameworks including at least one indicator of school or student success beyond those captured by standardized tests of academic skills.

An objective look at the research on the keys to success aligns with the intuition of nearly every teacher, parent and employer: there are interpersonal skills (such as the ability to collaborate well) and intrapersonal skills (such as the conscientiousness and self-control required to work diligently) that are vital complements to academic skills such as math, literacy and science.

This is not arguing that academic skills are not crucial as well; non-cognitive skills are both vital complements and contributors to those academic skills. It is not an either/or choice but rather a both/and case.


We call for everyone involved in the imminent state-by-state conversations on how to best measure performance to consider the hard scientific evidence –and the judgment of parents, teachers, and employers -- that non-cognitive skills are crucial to students’ long-term academic, career and wellbeing success.

Transforming Education has compiled and organized that evidence in the study Ready to Be Counted: The research case for education policy action on non-cognitive skills. We synthesized the most compelling findings about the impact of non-cognitive skills on lifelong success in three key domains: academics, career and lifelong well-being.

Consider these examples cited in our report:
  • The impact of being in the top versus the bottom quintile of self-control in the elementary years played out as a high school graduation rate of 95 percent vs. 58 percent and a likelihood of being convicted of a crime by age 40 of 43 percent vs. 13 percent;
  • Non-cognitive factors were equally predictive as cognitive factors regarding which young men went on to earn a college degree by age 30;
  • Kindergartners with high social competency were 1.5 times more likely to graduate high school and twice as likely to graduate college;
  • The odds of having an income over $2,000 per month at age 27 rose fourfold from 7 percent to 29 percent for those attending preschool, despite cognitive gains fading out by age 10; the likelihood of owning a home tripled and the frequency of ever having received welfare or similar public assistance was decreased by one quarter;
  • High quality kindergarten teachers led to significant income gains for those kindergartners as adults even as test score impacts faded out early. The researchers’ conclusion: “high quality classrooms may build non-cognitive skills that have returns in the labor market but do not improve performance on standardized tests.”

Educators agree. In a national survey of teachers, 93 percent said it is important for schools to promote non-cognitive skills, and 88 percent say their schools are trying to do so. We estimate that schools currently spend $650 million a year on “social emotional learning” (SEL) curricula and professional development programs.

Further, the 10% of total teaching and preparation time that teachers estimate they allocate to SEL translates into an expenditure of $30 billion worth of school time.

The problem is that we have had very little policy in place setting standards or measuring impact. The Institute of Educational Sciences funded randomized controlled trials that showed that seven of the leading SEL programs marketed to and used by schools had no effect on student outcomes. 
And with a cacophony of terminology (SEL, non-cognitives, 21st Century skills, soft skills, emotional intelligence, character, etc.) and programs, there is little clarity on what schools should prioritize.

We believe that the best way to advance the field is to deploy common, practical measures focused on a few of the most important skills. This will help create a shared language and understanding while empowering educators to evaluate current practices and to focus on the highest-need students.

The pioneer in this approach has been the CORE Districts, a set of California districts that through a groundbreaking federal waiver created the first large-scale education performance monitoring system to incorporate measures of non-cognitive skills.

Transforming Education has been the strategic partner to the CORE Districts in developing, testing and refining these measures. Analysis has shown that they are reliable and valid,statistically significantly predicting critical student outcomes such as GPA, test scores, attendance, and suspensions. We recently announced that together with the CORE Districts, we will soon be making the measures, the benchmark data from more than 450,000 students, and other useful downloadable tools all available online for free as open educational resources.

Ultimately, states must decide which skills they believe students need to learn in school. Measuring these non-cognitive skills will help ensure schools have the information they need to foster success in academics, career and life for their students every day in every classroom.

......................................................................

Chris Gabrieli is co-founder and Chairman of Transforming Education, as well as Chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education and a part-time member of the faculty of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

How Severe Maternal Inflammation Can Lead to Autism-Like Behavior

From MIT
via ScienceDaily


By Anne Trafton
January 28, 2016

A group of researchers found that immune cells activated in the mother during severe inflammation produce an immune effector molecule called IL-17 that appears to interfere with brain development.

Researchers found that immune cells activated in the mother during severe
inflammation produce an immune effector molecule called IL-17 that appear
to interfere with brain development. The researchers also found that
blocking this signal could restore normal behavior and brain structure.

In 2010, a large study in Denmark found that women who suffered an infection severe enough to require hospitalization while pregnant were much more likely to have a child with autism (even though the overall risk of delivering a child with autism remained low).

Now, research from MIT, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the University of Colorado, and New York University Langone Medical Center reveals a possible mechanism for how this occurs.

In a study of mice, the researchers found that immune cells activated in the mother during severe inflammation produce an immune effector molecule called IL-17 that appears to interfere with brain development.

The researchers also found that blocking this signal could restore normal behavior and brain structure.

"In the mice, we could treat the mother with antibodies that block IL-17 after inflammation had set in, and that could ameliorate some of the behavioral symptoms that were observed in the offspring. However, we don't know yet how much of that could be translated into humans," says Gloria Choi, an assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences, a member of MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and the lead author of the study, which appears in the January 28 online edition of Science.

Finding the Link

In the 2010 study, which included all children born in Denmark between 1980 and 2005, severe infections (requiring hospitalization) that correlated with autism risk included influenza, viral gastroenteritis, and urinary tract infections. Severe viral infections during the first trimester translated to a threefold risk for autism, and serious bacterial infections during the second trimester were linked with a 1.5-fold increase in risk.

Choi and her husband, Jun Huh, were graduate students at Caltech when they first heard about this study during a lecture by Caltech professor emeritus Paul Patterson, who had discovered that an immune signaling molecule called IL-6 plays a role in the link between infection and autism-like behaviors in rodents.

Huh, now an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and one of the paper's senior authors, was studying immune cells called Th17 cells, which are well known for contributing to autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel diseases, and rheumatoid arthritis. He knew that Th17 cells are activated by IL-6, so he wondered if these cells might also be involved in cases of animal models of autism associated with maternal infection.

"We wanted to find the link," Choi says. "How do you go all the way from the immune system in the mother to the child's brain?"

Choi and Huh launched the study as postdocs at New York University School of Medicine, working with Dan Littman, a professor of molecular immunology at NYU and one of the paper's senior authors. They began by injecting pregnant mice with a synthetic analog of double-stranded RNA, which activates the immune system in a similar way to viruses.

Confirming the results of previous studies in mice, the researchers found behavioral abnormalities in the offspring of the infected mothers, including deficits in sociability, repetitive behaviors, and abnormal communication. They then disabled Th17 cells in the mothers before inducing inflammation and found that the offspring mice did not show those behavioral abnormalities.


The abnormalities also disappeared when the researchers gave the infected mothers an antibody that blocks IL-17, which is produced by Th17 cells.

The researchers next asked how IL-17 might affect the developing fetus. They found that brain cells in the fetuses of mothers experiencing inflammation express receptors for IL-17, and they believe that exposure to the chemical provokes cells to produce even more receptors for IL-17, amplifying its effects.

In the developing mice, the researchers found irregularities in the normally well-defined layers of cells in the brain's cortex, where most cognition and sensory processing take place. These patches of irregular structure appeared in approximately the same cortical regions in all of the affected offspring, but they did not occur when the mothers' Th17 cells were blocked.

Disorganized cortical layers have also been found in studies of human patients with autism.

Preventing Autism

The researchers are now investigating whether and how these cortical patches produce the behavioral abnormalities seen in the offspring.

"We've shown correlation between these cortical patches and behavioral abnormalities, but we don't know whether the cortical patches actually are responsible for the behavioral abnormalities," Choi says. "And if it is responsible, what is being dysregulated within this patch to produce this behavior?"

The researchers hope their work may lead to a way to reduce the chances of autism developing in the children of women who experience severe infections during pregnancy. They also plan to investigate whether genetic makeup influences mice's susceptibility to maternal inflammation, because autism is known to have a very strong genetic component.


Journal Reference
  • Gloria B. Choi, Yeong S. Yim, Helen Wong, Sangdoo Kim, Hyunju Kim, Sangwon V. Kim, Charles A. Hoeffer, Dan R. Littman, Jun R. Huh. The maternal interleukin-17a pathway in mice promotes autism-like phenotypes in offspring. Science, 2016 DOI: 10.1126/science.aad0314

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The High Cost of Neuromyths in Education

From Edutopia

By Judy Willis, M.D.

January 16, 2016

"The expression "edu-cash-in" is a reasonable description of people trying to capitalize on unsupported claims about the research behind the design and promised outcome of their books, cure-all learning theories, curriculum packages, and edtech products."



Valid neuroscience research is an increasingly useful resource for guiding interventions in education. But not all "neurocontent" is created equal. With the overall rise in accessible education content has come a rise in the niche of neurological educational content -- content developed for educators based on how the brain works.

One of the more common snags here is the advent of "neuromyths," or content purportedly based on neuroscience that, while sounding plausible, is incorrect.

Neuromyths result from unsupported claims about interventions or products supposedly "proven by neuroscience research." These claims (usually with interventions for sale) are based on research that is either not scientifically valid or not supportive of the specific intervention being promoted.

Consider the financial and socioeconomic costs of commercial products falsely claiming neuroscience proof that all learners need what they offer. The expression "edu-cash-in" is a reasonable description of people trying to capitalize on unsupported claims about the research behind the design and promised outcome of their books, cure-all learning theories, curriculum packages, and edtech products.

Further, the falsehoods that neuromyths perpetuate also make educators skeptical about educational practices that actually have a strong evidence base, adding another layer to the problem.

We study history, in part, to learn from the mistakes of the past. Analyzing educationally-relevant neuromyths helps us become more critical consumers, avoiding costly expenditures of inadequately-supported claims and products while remaining alert for important implications of valid neuroscience research.

The Left/Right Brain Myth

Take for example the myth of left and right brains. Why has it taken over two decades to debunk the left brain/right brain myths? There was never any neuroscience research supporting claims that both sides of the brain needed physical exercise that "crosses the midline," such as tapping the left shoulder with the right hand.

Yet individuals and school districts spent considerable sums for programs claiming to provide critical activation of both sides of the brain to overcome the deficiencies of weak right or left brains that held back student intelligence and success.

But more problematic than a single myth is the difficulty in eroding that myth. Over 20 years ago, neuroimaging demonstrated that both sides of the brain are in constant communication, transmitting neural signals from one hemisphere to the other.

Although parts of the brain are particularly active during certain memory or learning activities, all brain activities requiring cognition activate neural networks on both sides of the brain. Yet the myth persists.

The Learning-Style Myth

Despite absence of valid supporting research, many products continue to promise more effective results when learning style is matched to teaching modality. Programs promise that their surveys or analytic tools yield vital information defining students' specific learning styles.

Their prescribed instruction differentiates not by mastery or interest, but on the sensory modality declared to be most effective for each learner and his or her "learning style."

No reliable research has ever demonstrated that instruction designated as appropriate for any "tested" learning style is effective because it matches that style.

The research is missing several important control validations. For example, there are no statistically valid studies comparing the response of a mixed-learning-style control group with the results of a learning-style-matched group. To qualify as "effective," there must be support of claims that superior outcomes are the direct result of teaching to individual learning styles and not a general result to the instruction.

There is no evidence that "visual learners" have better outcomes to instruction designed for "visual learners" than do mixed-style learners taught using the same instruction. Without comparison groups, the before and after results could simply mean that the particular instruction is the most effective method for teaching that specific content to all students (Pashler, et al).

The "We Use Only 10 Percent of Our Brains" Myth

Some neuromyths take on life because the language of neuroscience is not familiar or easily translatable. This is certainly true with some of our own "eduspeak" (consider the reaction to phonemic awareness or summative feedback outside of a school).

The neuromyth that we use only ten percent of our brainpower is beyond "lost in translation" -- it's a bad translation to begin with.

Some attribute the myth to mistranslations of mistranslations. In a book forward, journalist Lowell Thomas over-interpreted this statement written in the mid 1800s by William James, the father of modern psychology: "As a rule, men habitually use only a small part of their powers which they actually possess."

Thomas made that generalization more concrete by: "Professor William James of Harvard used to say that the average person develops only ten per cent of his latent mental ability."

To clarify the science, consider that the brain weighs three pounds and uses about 20 percent of the body's limited oxygen and glucose resources. The brain has built-in efficiency systems to keep it trim -- it destroys unused or disconnected islands of brain connections. When networks are not activated frequently enough to build up the strong walls of myelin and multiple dendrite connections, they are pruned away, assuring more availability of metabolic resources for the most-used brain networks.

Hence, we have "neurons that fire together" (the construction aspect of neuroplasticity) and its flipside, "use it or lose it."

Further myth-busting comes from neuroimaging research techniques, such as PET (positron emission tomography) and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans. These scans show that we use and activate most of our brains most of the time, and essentially all of our brains at some time each day.

Slaying the Myths

We can slay neuromyths as we integrate the neuroscience of learning into both schools of education and professional development. This strong background knowledge will empower educators to be vigilant about interventions supposedly "proven" by brain research.

Second-generation neuroimaging technology is yielding a powerful surge of new neuroscience research. Educators with this background will be the leaders who translate this coming research to transform their classrooms.

As we understand more about how the brain learns best, it is in our students' best interest to evaluate the best research. Let us pay careful attention to the evidence from multiple studies about strategies or approaches based on well-validated neuroscience research.

We want to hear about the convergent findings that will have a positive impact on students' learning outcomes. These studies will help dispel lingering neuromyths and illuminate pathways to improve education.

Research Cited
  • Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., and Bjork, R. (2008). "Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence," Psychological Science in the Public Interest, December 2008, vol.9 no.3, 105-119.

More Evidence That Growing Up Poor May Alter Key Brain Structures

From WBUR 90.9 FM's Blog
"CommonHealth"

By Rachel Zimmerman
January 20, 2016

Poverty is bad for your brain.



That’s the basic takeaway from an emerging body of research suggesting that the distress associated with growing up poor can negatively influence brain development in many ways, and in certain cases might also lead to emotional and mental health problems, like depression.

The latest study, led by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, found that poverty in early childhood may influence the development of important connections between parts of the brain that are critical for effective regulation of emotions.

The study, published in the Journal of American Psychiatry, adds “to the growing awareness of the immense public health crisis represented by the huge number of children growing up in poverty and the likely long-lasting impact this experience has on brain development and on negative mood and depression,” researchers report.


Specifically, the researchers conclude:

“…Poverty in early childhood, as assessed by at least one measure, may influence the development of hippocampal and amygdala connectivity in a manner leading to negative mood symptoms during later childhood.”

The study involved 105 St. Louis-area children participating in a larger study looking at the development of emotions. Starting in pre-school, the children underwent behavior assessments for up to 12 years, researchers report, then at school-age they underwent brain scans with functional MRI.

I asked Harvard Professor Dr. Charles Nelson, a Boston Children’s Hospital neuroscientist not involved in the St. Louis study, for his thoughts. Nelson, who studies how children’s early experiences shape their developing brains, wrote back in an email, which is lightly edited, here:


"This paper represents an emerging literature that links exposure to early adversity writ large with alterations in brain and behavioral development; in this case, it specifically focuses on the effects of poverty on neural connectivity.

The sample reported on here is part of an ambitious longitudinal study that has been yielding very exciting findings. For example, in an earlier paper by [Joan] Luby et al., published in JAMA Pediatrics, the authors reported that children growing up in low [socio-economic status] households showed changes in the volume [size] of the hippocampus and amygdala, structures that play an essential role in learning, memory, and emotion.

The Luby finding is consistent with other work by Kim Noble and colleagues, that collectively suggest that growing up poor alters the course of key brain structures; however, in the Luby paper the authors went one further and demonstrated that the effects on brain structure were mediated by parental sensitivity — thus, it isn’t simply being poor that accounted for the findings, it was parental responsiveness.

The current paper extends the earlier findings by Luby by suggesting that it is not only the volume [size] of the hippocampus and amygdala that is compromised by growing up poor, it is the connections between these structures. Importantly, then they report that altered connectivity is associated with (i.e., can account for) depressive symptoms in this sample.

The work is well done and moves the ball further downfield (since we’re in the midst of Patriot fever I thought I’d use a football analogy), informing us that of the potential hazards of growing up poor.

Now, is there a down side here? Yes. We still need to “peak inside” of poverty; poverty per se doesn’t cause anything, it is the host of things that travel with poverty. Is it access to resources? Stress? Less than adequate care-giving? We really don’t know. But, the work is very important in pointing to the neurobiological toll of growing up poor.

As I note in my commentary on the Luby paper, the costs of the effects reported in this paper and in this group’s other papers extends far behind childhood; these effects can be biologically embedded and lead to less than desirable outcomes in the adults these children become."

Friday, January 29, 2016

How School Systems Create *That* Parent for Children in Special Education

From the HuffPost Education Blog

By Laurie Levy
December 16, 2015

Demanding. Annoying. Angry. Unrealistic. Unreasonable. Every teacher, principal and district administrator knows *that* parent.


In special education, there are much greater numbers of *that* parent, and I'm sure school systems feel irritated and challenged by the threats of lawsuits and seemingly endless fights over Individualized Education Plan (IEP) goals.

But do they realize their role in creating *that* parent?

In an earlier post, I begged teachers not to force parents to become *that* parent, explaining that all parents, and especially those of children with special needs, want to be liked and work in partnership with their children's teachers.

The incident I cited was the failure of a special education teacher to communicate with the parents of a non-verbal child, or even to answer their emails asking about the child spending time in a "quiet room" and the lack of a behavior plan for its use.

After five emails, the teacher responded and offered to meet. The meeting consisted of her pulling the child's mother aside during pick up time to reassure her that the room was actually more of a closet with a door that didn't lock, that the child chose to go to the room, and that it helped to regulate his behavior.

These parents were so polite and accommodating that they accepted the explanation, and decided to wait a few days before requesting a more formal meeting. They had arranged for a visit from a specialist in teaching reading to non-verbal children, and she was coming that week to train the special education classroom teacher. These trainings were part of the child's IEP.

Except, the training didn't happen, because the school failed to arrange for a sub.

Instead, the district special education department suggested that a classroom aide could be trained. But it is not legal for anyone other then a special education teacher to carry out the instructional minutes mandated by the IEP. So that didn't happen.

Now, the parents have transitioned from being nice to being extremely angry and frustrated. Now, they have become *that* parent. Yes, they admit their child can be difficult and they are aware of his behavioral challenges. But they also know their child is capable of learning and can actually read. His capacity to learn is demonstrated in private therapy and at home. Just not at school.

In short, he has been deprived of years of education by a school system mainly focused on his behavior and managing it.

In her blog Let's Be Blunt: The Illusion of Inclusion, Karen Copeland writes about how parents of children receiving special education services evolve into angry parents:


"We are told we need to stay calm and polite in meetings in order to be respectful. The challenge is that these very systems have set us up and created us to be these angry parents by virtue of the fact that we have had to fight so long and so hard to get our children and families even a fraction of the accommodations and support we need."

Copeland shares the journey of many parents of children with special needs in our public schools:
  • The frustration of not being informed about or consulted when important decisions are made for their children, despite assurances at IEP meetings that they are valuable partners.
  • The need to advocate constantly for the extra support their children require, the support promised to them by law under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  • The isolation their families experience in the school setting as parents of typically developing children ignore them and complain that their children are taking too much teacher time and too many resources.
  • The lack of appropriate support and learning adaptations for children placed in general education classrooms without access to resource rooms and specialized teaching.

Like all parents, those of children with special needs want their kids to succeed and live up to their potential. They also have dreams for their children and believe their children are capable of learning at their own pace. Like the parents of the child spending time in the "quiet room" closet and being denied appropriate educational interventions, they try to supplement what the school fails to provide.

Copeland reminds us that schools should never give up on a child regardless of age. "How many people would write off their own child if he/she was different?"

A school psychologist commented on my earlier blog, "Please be *that* parent. Your child deserves no less, and your special education team needs the feedback to support your child's success."

Speaking on behalf of all parents of children receiving special education services, I am asking school districts to collaborate, communicate, and consult rather than evade, fight, and blame. Try it. I'm sure fewer folks will become *that* parent.

Child Trauma Documentary “Resilience” Premieres at Sundance Film Festival to Sold-Out Houses

From ACES Too High News
ACES = Adverse Childhood Experiences

By Jane Ellen Stevens
January 25, 2016



Resilience, a documentary that looks at the birth of the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study and how it spawned a movement across the world, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday. The first two screenings — both on Friday — were sold out.

Not bad for a film whose director, James Redford, wasn’t even planning on submitting it to the festival.

The buzz started before the festival even began. Wired.com listed Resilience as No. 2 in the 25 documentaries not to miss. WhatNotToDoc.com also singled it out. Nonfictionfilm.com did a story about the documentary. Metamoral Films director Matt Duhamel scheduled a red-carpet interview with Redford.


The night before the premiere, Indiewire published a story by Redford about “how we should measure ‘impact’ in documentaries”. And the Salt Lake Tribune featured the film in this article: Sundance documentaries tout empathy in education and child development.

(l to r) Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, who appears in Resilience; Robert Redford,
father of Resilience director James Redford; Clifford Beers Guidance Clinic
site coordinator Laura Lawrence, who appears in Resilience; Resilience
producer and director James Redford; Resilience co-producer Dana Schwartz

There’s only one sour note so far: In his review in Variety, Ben Kenigsberg didn’t think the film was very compelling. “Those who already have a keen interest in the subject would be better off racing to the New England Journal of Medicine than to a theater,” he wrote.

I’ve seen it, and I didn’t get bored for a skinny minute. I actually think that people who have a keen interest in ACES will stay glued to their seats.

In addition to the packed houses, there’s more news: According to the Hollywood Reporter, Brainstorm Media has acquired North American rights to Resilience. It also picked up Paper Tigers.

Resilience is produced by KPJR Productions. It features interviews with several leaders in the ACEs movement nationally and in communities, including Laura Lawrence and Laura Porter, and Drs. Robert Anda, Vincent Felitti, Nadine Burke Harris, Victor Carrion, Jack Shonkoff and David Johnson. The producers are Redford and Karen Pritzker. The executive producers are Pritzker and Regina K. Scully.

The documentary is the second by Redford that addresses ACEs. The first was Paper Tigers, which follows six students during a school year at Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, the first trauma-informed high school in the U.S. Paper Tigers has been screening to sold-out audiences around the U.S. since it premiered at the Seattle Film Festival last year.

If you happen to be at Sundance this week, you still have a chance to see Resilience at two more screenings: one tomorrow night (Tuesday) and another on Saturday. Check out the Resilience web site to purchase tickets.


"Paper Tigers" Trailer


“Stressed brains can’t learn.” That was what Jim Sporleder, principal of a high school riddled with violence, drugs and truancy, took away from an educational presentation on Adverse Childhood Experiences in 2010. Three years later, the number of fights at Lincoln High School had gone down by 75% and the graduation rate had increased five-fold. Paper Tigers is the story of how one school made such dramatic progress, becoming a promising model for trauma-informed schools.

Join filmmaker James Redford, New York Times contributor David Bornstein, and New School for Social Research Professor of Psychology Dr. Howard Steele for a panel discussion and screening of Paper Tigers, a documentary about how addressing childhood adversity turned an entire school around—and an official selection at the Seattle International Film Festival.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

U.S. Probe into Georgia Special Ed Program Could Have National Impact

From The Washington Post

By Emma Brown
August 5, 2015

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch speaks in June.
(Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

The Justice Department has accused Georgia of segregating thousands of students with behavior-related disabilities, shunting them into a program that denies them access to their non-disabled peers and to extracurricular activities and other basic amenities, including gymnasiums, libraries and appropriately certified teachers.

The department’s years-long inquiry into Georgia’s programs, and the pressure it is now putting on state officials to revamp the way they educate students with disabilities, have brought hope to advocates in the state who have long tried unsuccessfully for change.

But the department’s legal tack in the Georgia case is a sign that it is expanding an important civil rights approach into the education arena, a move that is likely to have implications nationwide, experts say.

Justice did not investigate Georgia’s lapses under the nation’s main law for protecting the interests of special education students — the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. Instead, the department focused on the state’s failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a much more powerful civil rights tool, according to legal experts.

Advocates believe that Justice’s use of ADA to press for desegregation of the Georgia program, coupled with case law emerging from courts in the past several years, will force many school districts to reexamine whether they are unlawfully segregating students with disabilities. They say it also will push schools to set a higher bar for the education that those students receive.

“For a long time we have created these segregated, separate programs,” said Alison Barkoff, director of advocacy for the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, who oversaw Justice’s ADA work from 2010 to 2014. “I think with the right services and supports, we can support kids with disabilities to be in their neighborhood schools and in general ed classrooms for the overwhelming majority of their days.”

IDEA was passed in the 1970s as a way to open the schoolhouse door to children with disabilities. It says that children with disabilities are entitled to an education, but it doesn’t promise much in terms of the quality of that education, Barkoff said. “Frankly, it’s a pretty low floor compared to ADA,” she said.

The ADA, which just turned 25, requires schools to provide people with disabilities with an education and with educational opportunities that are equal to that of their non-disabled peers. It also prohibits the unjustified segregation of people with disabilities.

A school district can be compliant with IDEA but still fall short of the civil rights guarantees in ADA, the Justice Department argued successfully in a case before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“The ADA serves as a powerful tool to open doors to persons with disabilities,” said Eve Hill, Justice’s deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights. “Promoting inclusive learning environments for students with disabilities reflects the importance of having children learn and play together, so that they can be prepared to live and thrive together.”

Special education advocates in Georgia have long said the state’s program for children with behavior-related disabilities unnecessarily segregates them into inferior buildings with inferior educational opportunities.

Under IDEA, advocates have successfully argued that individual students should be removed from the program, the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support (GNETS). But as its name suggests, IDEA is focused on individual students, making it a weak tool in pushing for systemic change, advocates say.

For example, IDEA requires students to be placed in the “least restrictive environment” — or least segregated environment — where their needs can be met. In Georgia, advocates said students with behavioral disabilities were sent to the segregated GNETS program often because neighborhood schools lacked the supports and services those students required.

So the services provided to GNETS students may have been meeting the requirements of IDEA. But at the same time, those same students’ civil rights were violated because they did not have access to the equal educational opportunities guaranteed under ADA, according to the Justice Department.

The state’s 5,000 GNETS students, spread among 24 regional centers, are mostly taught via computer programs instead of by certified teachers, according to Justice. Many of the GNETS centers are housed in poor-quality facilities once used as schools for black children during the days of Jim Crow. GNETS students report feeling as if they are in prison, separate from their peers and without access to athletics or clubs.

One parent described it as “a warehouse for kids the school system doesn’t want or know how to deal with,” according to Justice.

Leslie Lipson, an attorney for the nonprofit Georgia Advocacy Office, said she was thrilled by the Justice Department’s inquiry and hopes that the push to desegregate students with disabilities will help create schools that are more equipped to serve all students.

“What I’m really hoping for five years down the road is, as we learn how to support kids with behavioral disabilities, that it increases our capacity to welcome everyone at school,” she said.

“There are tons of kids who have experienced trauma, who have lost a parent — all sorts of different reasons that might have significant behavioral challenges, and to have teachers and structures that can meet those children’s needs is important...”

Justice outlined the findings of its GNETS inquiry in a July 15 letter to Gov. Nathan Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens and called on state officials to desegregate the decades-old program or face legal action.

A spokesman for Deal referred questions to the state education department. Education officials referred questions to Olens, the state attorney general.

Daryl Robinson, a spokesman for Olens, said that his office has “been in contact with the Department of Justice since receiving the letter, but we have not responded formally in writing. For the time being, we do not intend to comment further on this matter.”

........................................................

Emma Brown writes about national education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.

OSERS Issues Annual Report to Congress

From Jim Gerl, Esq.'s
Special Education Law Blog

By Jim Gerl, Esq.
January 22, 2016

You can review the entire 247 page report here.


Last month OSERS (Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services) issued its annual report to the U. S. Congress. The report contains a wealth of information about special education in America. In addition to numerous charts and graphs, the thirty-seventh annual report to congress of Implementation of IDEA contains information on both Part C and Part B.

The data and findings include child count, educational environments, participation in assessments, discipline and dispute resolution.


Here are some key national findings for students age 6 - 21 served under Part B:
  • In 2013, a total of 5,847,624 students ages 6 through 21 were served under IDEA, Part B. Of these students, 5,734,391 were served in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and BIE schools. This number represented 8.5 percent of the resident population ages 6 through 21. The total number of students ages 6 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B, in 2004 was 6,118,437. In each year between 2004 through 2011, the number of students served was less than in the previous year. However, more students were served under Part B in 2012 than in 2011; and more students were served under Part B in 2013 than in 2012. In 2004, 9.1 percent of the resident population ages 6 through 21 were served under Part B. Between 2004 and 2010, the percentage of the population served decreased to 8.4 percent. The percentage served remained at 8.4 percent until 2013, when it increased to 8.5 percent (Exhibit 18).
  • The percentage of the resident population ages 6 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B, was 9.1 percent in 2004. Thereafter, the percentage decreased gradually, reaching a low of 8.4 percent in 2010. The percentage of the resident population ages 6 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B, in 2004 was 9.1 percent. Thereafter, the percentage decreased gradually, reaching a low of 8.4 percent in 2010. The percentage remained at 8.4 percent until 2013, when it increased to 8.5 percent. Between 2004 and 2011, the percentage of the population ages 6 through 11 served under IDEA, Part B, decreased gradually from 11.4 percent to 10.6 percent. The percentage increased in both 2012 and 2013, when it reached 10.9 percent. The percentage of the population ages 12 through 17 served under Part B decreased gradually from 11.6 percent to 10.8 percent between 2004 and 2013. In contrast, the percentage of the population ages 18 through 21 served under Part B, increased or stayed the same in each successive year from 2004 through 2009, when it peaked at 2 percent. The percentage did not change after 2009 (Exhibit 19).
  • In 2013, the most prevalent disability category of students ages 6 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B, was specific learning disabilities (39.5 percent). The next most common disability category was speech or language impairments (17.9 percent), followed by other health impairments (13.8 percent), autism (8.2 percent), intellectual disabilities (7.1 percent), and emotional disturbance (6.0 percent). Students ages 6 through 21 in “Other disabilities xxv combined” accounted for the remaining 7.4 percent of students served under IDEA, Part B (Exhibit 20).
  • The percentage of the resident population ages 6 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B, reported under each of three disability categories changed by more than two-tenths of a percentage point between 2004 and 2013. The percentages of the population reported under autism and other health impairments increased by 0.5 of a percentage point and 0.4 of a percentage point, respectively, while the percentage of the population reported under specific learning disabilities decreased by 0.8 of a percentage point (Exhibit 21).
  • Between 2004 and 2013, the percentage of the resident population ages 6 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B, that was reported under the category of autism increased steadily from 0.2 percent to 0.7 percent. Between 2004 and 2013, the percentages of the populations ages 6 through 11, 12 through 17, and 18 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B, that were reported under the category of autism all increased. Specifically, the percentages of these three age groups that were reported under the category of autism were 145 percent, 242 percent, and 258 percent larger in 2013 than in 2004, respectively (Exhibit 22).
  • From 2004 through 2013, the percentage of the resident population ages 6 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B, that was reported under the category of other health impairments increased from 0.8 percent to 1.2 percent. The percentages of the populations ages 6 through 11, 12 through 17, and 18 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B, that were reported under the category of other health impairments were 45 percent, 624 percent, and 104 percent larger in 2013 than in 2004, respectively (Exhibit 23).
  • From 2004 through 2013, the percentage of the resident population ages 6 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B, that was reported under the category of specific learning disabilities decreased from 4.2 percent to 3.4 percent. The percentages of the populations ages 6 through 11, 12 through 17, and 18 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B, that were reported under the category of specific learning disabilities were 20 percent, 19 percent, and 8 percent smaller in 2013 than in 2004, respectively (Exhibit 24).
  • In 2013, American Indian or Alaska Native, Black or African American, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander children ages 6 through 21 had risk ratios above 1 (i.e., 1.6, 1.4, and 1.6, respectively). This indicates that the children in each group were more likely to be served under Part B than were the children ages 6 through 21 in all other racial/ethnic groups combined. Asian and White children ages 6 through 21 as well as children ages 6 through 21 associated with two or more racial/ethnic groups, with risk ratios of less than 1.0 (i.e., 0.5, 0.9, and 0.8, respectively), were less likely to be served under Part B than were the children ages 6 through 21 in all other racial/ethnic groups combined. Hispanic/Latino children ages 6 through 21, with a risk ratio of 1.0, were as likely to be served under Part B as children ages 6 through 21 in all other racial/ethnic groups combined (Exhibit 25).
  • American Indian or Alaska Native students ages 6 through 21 were 3.8 times more likely to be served under IDEA, Part B, for developmental delay than students ages 6 through 21 in all other racial/ethnic groups combined. The risk ratio for American Indian or Alaska Native students ages 6 through 21 was larger than the risk ratio for the students ages 6 through 21 in all other racial/ethnic groups combined for all disability categories except autism (0.88) and orthopedic impairments (0.95). Asian students ages 6 through 21were 1.15 and 1.21 times more likely to be served under IDEA, Part B, for autism and hearing impairments, xxvi respectively, than were students ages 6 through 21 in all other racial/ethnic groups combined. The risk ratio for Asian students ages 6 through 21 was smaller than the risk ratio for the students ages 6 through 21 in all other racial/ethnic groups combined for each of the other disability categories. Black or African American students ages 6 through 21 were 2.14 and 2.26 times more likely to be served under IDEA, Part B, for emotional disturbance and intellectual disabilities, respectively, than were the students ages 6 through 21 in all other racial/ethnic groups combined. The risk ratio for Black or African American students ages 6 through 21 was larger than the risk ratio for the students ages 6 through 21 in all other racial/ethnic groups combined for every disability category except autism (0.97), deafblindness (0.75), and orthopedic impairments (0.83). Hispanic or Latino students ages 6 through 21 were 1.34, 1.21, and 1.29 times more likely to be served under IDEA, Part B, for hearing impairments, specific learning disabilities, and orthopedic impairments, respectively, than were students ages 6 through 21 in all other racial/ethnic groups combined. Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander students ages 6 through 21 were 4.15, 2.52, and 2.81 times more likely to be served under IDEA, Part B, for deaf-blindness, developmental delay, and hearing impairments, respectively, than were students ages 6 through 21 in all other racial/ethnic groups combined. The risk ratio for Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander students ages 6 through 21 was larger than the risk ratio for the students ages 6 through 21 in all other racial/ethnic groups combined for every other disability category as well. White students ages 6 through 21 were 1.21, 1.31, and 1.31 times more likely to be served under IDEA, Part B, for autism, other health impairments, and traumatic brain injury, respectively, than were students ages 6 through 21 in all other racial/ethnic groups combined. Students ages 6 through 21 associated with two or more races were 1.15 and 1.11 times more likely to be served under IDEA, Part B, for developmental delay and emotional disturbance, respectively, than were students ages 6 through 21 in all other racial/ethnic groups combined. The risk ratio for students associated with two or more races ages 6 through 21 was smaller than the risk ratio for the students ages 6 through 21 in all other racial/ethnic groups combined for every other disability category (Exhibit 26).
  • For the students ages 6 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B, in 2013, specific learning disabilities was the most prevalent disability category for every racial/ethnic group. In particular, this disability category accounted for 45.2 percent of American Indian or Alaska Native students, 26.1 percent of Asian students, 41.5 percent of Black or African American students, 47.9 percent of Hispanic/Latino students, 49.3 percent of Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander students, 35.4 percent of White students, and 34.9 percent of the children associated with two or more racial/ethnic groups (Exhibit 27).
  • In 2013, a total of 95 percent of students ages 6 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B, were educated in regular classrooms for at least some portion of the school day. More than 60 percent of students ages 6 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B, (62.1 percent) were educated inside the regular class 80% or more of the day. A total of 19.2 percent of students served under IDEA, Part B, were educated inside the regular class no more than 79% of the day and no less than 40% of the day, and 13.7 percent were educated inside the regular class less than 40% of the day. Only 5 percent of students served under IDEA, Part B, were educated outside of the regular classroom in “Other environments” (Exhibit 28).
  • From 2004 through 2013, the percentage of students ages 6 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B, educated inside the regular class 80% or more of the day increased from 51.8 percent to 62.1 percent. The percentage of students ages 6 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B, educated inside the regular class no more than 79% of the day and no less than 40% of the day decreased from 26.4 percent in 2004 to 19.2 percent in 2013. Similarly, the percentage of xxvii these students educated inside the regular class less than 40% of the day decreased from 17.8 percent to 13.7 percent between these years. The percentage of students ages 6 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B, educated in “Other environments” increased from 4 percent in 2004 to 5 percent in 2013. However, it had accounted for as much as 5.3 percent in 2007 and 2009 (Exhibit 29).
  • In 2013, the percentage of students ages 6 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B, in each educational environment varied by disability category. More than 8 in 10 students reported under the category of speech or language impairments (87.1 percent) were educated inside the regular class 80% or more of the day. Only 16.7 percent of students reported under the category of intellectual disabilities and 13.4 percent of students reported under the category of multiple disabilities were educated inside the regular class 80% or more of the day. Almost one-half of students reported under the category of intellectual disabilities (49.1 percent) and students reported under the category of multiple disabilities (46.2 percent) were educated inside the regular class less than 40% of the day. In 2013, larger percentages of students reported under the categories of deaf-blindness (29.5 percent) and multiple disabilities (24.1 percent) than students reported under other disability categories were educated in “Other environments” (Exhibit 30).
  • In 2013, for each racial/ethnic group, the largest percentage of students ages 6 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B, was educated inside the regular class 80% or more of the day. The students who were educated inside the regular class 80% or more of the day accounted for at least 49 percent of the students in each of the racial/ethnic groups. The percentages of students in the racial/ethnic groups who were educated inside the regular class 80% or more of the day ranged from 49.7 percent to 65.1 percent. The category inside the regular class no more than 79% of the day and no less than 40% of the day accounted for between 16.8 and 30.3 percent of the students within each racial/ethnic group. In contrast, less than 20 percent of the students within each racial/ethnic group, except for Asian students (21.1 percent), were educated inside the regular class less than 40% of the day. “Other environments” accounted for less than 5.9 percent of the students within each racial/ethnic group (Exhibit 31).
  • In school year 2012–13, between 38.3 and 51.2 percent of students served under IDEA, Part B, in each of grades 3 through 8 and high school participated in a regular assessment based on grade-level academic achievement standards with accommodations in math. Between 24.8 and 38.4 percent of students served under IDEA, Part B, in each of grades 3 through 8 and high school participated in a regular assessment based on grade-level academic achievement standards without accommodations in math. Of all students who participated in some type of alternate assessment in math in school year 2012–13, larger percentages of these students in each of grades 3 through 8 and high school took an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards than the other two types of alternate tests. (Exhibit 32).
  • In school year 2012–13, between 39.3 and 46.4 percent of students served under IDEA, Part B, in each of grades 3 through 8 and high school participated in a regular assessment based on grade-level academic achievement standards with accommodations in reading. Between 29.3 and 37.7 percent of students served under IDEA, Part B, in each of grades 3 through 8 and high school participated in a regular assessment based on grade-level academic achievement standards without accommodations in reading. Of the students in each of grades 3 through 8 who participated in some type of alternate assessment in reading in school year 2012–13, a larger percentage took an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards. In contrast, a larger percentage of the students in high xxviii school who participated in some type of alternate assessment in reading took an alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards (Exhibit 32).
  • No more than 2.23 percent of students served under IDEA, Part B, who were expected to take a math assessment in each of grades 3 through 8 in school year 2012–13 were classified as nonparticipants. Similarly, no more than 2.07 percent of students served under IDEA, Part B, who were expected to take a reading assessment in each of grades 3 through 8 in school year 2012–13 were classified as nonparticipants. Larger percentages of the students served under IDEA, Part B, in high school in school year 2012–13 were classified as nonparticipants for both the math assessment (5.43 percent) and the reading assessment (5.38 percent). Of the three nonparticipant categories, students who did not take any assessment accounted for more of the nonparticipants in each grade in both math and reading. However, the percentage only exceeded 2 percent for high school students expected to be assessed in math (4.54 percent) and high school students expected to be assessed in reading (4.16 percent) (Exhibit 33).
  • In school year 2012–13, between 49 and 52 of the 59 jurisdictions (i.e., the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the four outlying areas, and the three freely associated states) for which data were available administered a regular assessment based on grade-level academic achievement standards in math to some students served under IDEA, Part B, in each of grades 3 through 8 and high school and had non-suppressed data. The median percentage of students served under IDEA, Part B, in grade 3 and in grade 4 who were found to be proficient with these math tests was 39.9 percent and 40.2 percent, respectively. The median percentage of students in grade 5 through high school who were found to be proficient with these tests was in a range from 19 percent to 31.3 percent. An alternate assessment based on grade-level academic achievement standards for math was administered by one jurisdiction to some students served under IDEA, Part B, in each of grades 3 through 8 and high school. An alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards for math was administered to some students served under IDEA, Part B, in each of grades 3 through 8 and high school by 12 or 13 jurisdictions. The median percentage of students served under IDEA, Part B, in each of grades 3 through 6 who were found to be proficient with these math tests was in a range from 49.9 percent to 58.5 percent. The median percentage of students in each of grades 7 through high school who were found to be proficient with these tests was in a range from 31.5 percent to 43.9 percent. Non-suppressed data were available for 51 to 53 jurisdictions that administered an alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards for math to some students served under IDEA, Part B, in each of grades 3 through 8 and high school. The median percentage of students served under IDEA, Part B, in each grade who were found to be proficient with these math tests was in a range from 70.9 percent to 73.4 percent (Exhibit 34).
  • In school year 2012–13, between 50 and 52 of the 59 jurisdictions (i.e., the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the four outlying areas, and the three freely associated states) for which data were available administered a regular assessment based on grade-level academic achievement standards in reading to some students served under IDEA, Part B, in each of grades 3 through 8 and high school and had non-suppressed data. The median percentages of these students who were found to be proficient with these reading tests ranged from 25.4 percent to 37.3 percent. An alternate assessment based on grade-level academic achievement standards for reading was administered to some students served under IDEA, Part B, in each of grades 3 through 8 and high school by three states. The median percentages of students served under IDEA, Part B, in grade 5 who were found to be proficient with this type of reading tests was 85.8 percent. The median percentage of students in each of grades 3, 4, and 6 through 8 who were found to be proficient was in a range from 20.6 percent to 45.8 xxix percent. Zero percent of the students who were in high school were found to be proficient with this type of test. An alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards for reading was administered by 12 or 13 jurisdictions to some students served under IDEA, Part B, in each of grades 3 through 8 and high school. The median percentage of students served under IDEA, Part B, in each grade who were found to be proficient with these reading tests was in a range from 43.8 percent to 59.8 percent. Non-suppressed data were available for 52 or 53 jurisdictions that administered an alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards for reading to some students served under IDEA, Part B, in each of grades 3 through 8 and high school. The median percentage of students served under IDEA, Part B, in each grade who were found to be proficient with these reading tests was in a range from 70.6 percent to 74 percent (Exhibit 34).
  • Of the seven exit reason categories, graduated with a regular high school diploma accounted for the largest percentage of students ages 14 through 21 who exited special education in 2012–13 (41.8 percent), followed by moved, known to be continuing in education (26.4 percent) and dropped out (12.1 percent) (Exhibit 35).
  • In 2012–13, a total of 65.1 percent of the students ages 14 through 21 who exited IDEA, Part B, and school graduated with a regular high school diploma; an additional 18.8 percent dropped out. From 2003–04 through 2012–13, the percentage of students who exited special education and school by having graduated with a regular high school diploma increased from 54.5 percent to 65.1 percent. From 2003–04 through 2012–13, the percentage of students who exited special education and school by having dropped out decreased from 31.1 percent to 18.8 percent (Exhibit 36).
  • From 2003–04 through 2012–13, the graduation percentage increased for students who exited IDEA, Part B, and school in all disability categories. Increases larger than 10 percent were associated with the following four disability categories: emotional disturbance (15.4 percentage point increase), speech or language impairments (14.9 percentage point increase), other health impairments (10.6 percent point increase), and specific learning disabilities (10.5 percentage point increase). In every year from 2003–04 through 2012–13, except 2006– 07, the disability category of visual impairments was associated with the largest graduation percentage. Moreover, while the students who exited special education and school reported under the category of emotional disturbance had the smallest graduation percentages in 2003–04, the students reported under the category of intellectual disabilities had the smallest graduation percentages from 2004–05 through 2012–13 (Exhibit 37). • From 2003–04 through 2012–13, the dropout percentage decreased for students in each disability category who exited IDEA, Part B, and school. The decreases were most notable for students reported under the categories of emotional disturbance (-16.9 percentage point decrease) and speech or language impairments (-14.9 percentage point decrease). In each year from 2003–04 through 2012–13, a larger percentage of the students reported under the category of emotional disturbance exited special education and school by dropping out. In fact in each year, the dropout percentage was no less than 35 percent, which was substantially larger than the dropout percentage for any other disability category (Exhibit 38).
  • In 2012, a total of 336,656, or 95.2 percent, of the 353,655 FTE special education teachers who provided special education and related services for students ages 6 through 21 under IDEA, Part B, were highly qualified (Exhibit 39). xxx • In 2012, a total of 407,978, or 97.1 percent, of the 420,016 FTE special education paraprofessionals who provided special education and related services for students ages 6 through 21 under IDEA, Part B, were qualified (Exhibit 40).