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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Predatory Journals Hit by ‘Star Wars’ Sting

From Discover Magazine's Blog

By Neuroskeptic
July 22, 2017

If you recognize ‘midi-chlorian’ as a made-up life form that exists only in “Star Wars” movies, congratulations. You’re more alert than the four ‘predatory’ journals that accepted a Star Wars-themed hoax paper claiming that “midichlorial disorders often erupt as brain diseases, such as autism.” Neuroskeptic, the nom de web of the blogger who perpetrated the sting, described it in a 22 July post.
-- Spectrum News

* * * * *

A number of so-called scientific journals have accepted a Star Wars-themed spoof paper. The manuscript is an absurd mess of factual errors, plagiarism and movie quotes. I know, because I wrote it.

Inspired by previous publishing “stings”, I wanted to test whether ‘predatory‘ journals would publish an obviously absurd paper. So I created a spoof manuscript about “midi-chlorians” – the fictional entities which live inside cells and give Jedi their powers in Star Wars. I filled it with other references to the galaxy far, far away, and submitted it to nine journals under the names of Dr. Lucas McGeorge and Dr. Annette Kin.

Four journals fell for the sting.

The American Journal of Medical and Biological Research (SciEP) accepted the paper, but asked for a $360 fee, which I didn’t pay. Amazingly, three other journals not only accepted but actually published the spoof. Here’s the paper from the International Journal of Molecular Biology: Open Access (MedCrave), Austin Journal of Pharmacology and Therapeutics (Austin) and American Research Journal of Biosciences (ARJ).

I hadn’t expected this, as all those journals charge publication fees, but I never paid them a penny.

So what did they publish? A travesty, which they should have rejected within about 5 minutes – or 2 minutes if the reviewer was familiar with Star Wars.

Some highlights:
  • “Beyond supplying cellular energy, midichloria perform functions such as Force sensitivity…”
  • “Involved in ATP production is the citric acid cycle, also referred to as the Kyloren cycle after its discoverer”
  • “Midi-chlorians are microscopic life-forms that reside in all living cells – without the midi-chlorians, life couldn’t exist, and we’d have no knowledge of the force.
  • Midichlorial disorders often erupt as brain diseases, such as autism.”
  • “midichloria DNA (mtDNRey)” and “ReyTP”

And so on. I even put the legendary Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise monologue in the paper:

Ironically, I’m not even a big Star Wars fan. I just like the memes.

To generate the main text of the paper, I copied the Wikipedia page on ‘mitochondrion’ (which, unlike midichlorians, exist) and then did a simple find/replace to turn mitochondr* into midichlor*. I then Rogeted the text, i.e. I reworded it (badly), because the main focus of the sting was on whether journals would publish a ridiculous paper, not whether they used a plagiarism detector (although Rogeting is still plagiarism in my book.)

For transparency, I admitted what I’d done in the paper itself. The Methods section features the line “The majority of the text of this paper was Rogeted [7]”. Reference 7 cited an article on Rogeting followed by “The majority of the text in the current paper was Rogeted from Wikipedia:
Apologies to the original authors of that page.”

* * * * *

Credit where credit’s due, a number of journals rejected the paper: Journal of Translational Science (OAText); Advances in Medicine (Hindawi); Biochemistry & Physiology: Open Access (OMICS).

Two journals requested me to revise and resubmit the manuscript. At JSM Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (JSciMedCentral) both of the two peer reviewers spotted and seemingly enjoyed the Star Wars spoof, with one commenting that “The authors have neglected to add the following references: Lucas et al., 1977, Palpatine et al., 1980, and Calrissian et al., 1983”. Despite this, the journal asked me to revise and resubmit.

At the Journal of Molecular Biology and Techniques (Elyns Group), the two peer reviewers didn’t seem to get the joke, but recommended some changes such as reverting “midichlorians” back to “mitochondria.”

Finally, I should note that as a bonus, “Dr Lucas McGeorge” was sent an unsolicited invitation to serve on the editorial board of this journal.

* * * * *

So, does this sting prove that scientific publishing is hopelessly broken? No, not really. It’s just a reminder that at some “peer reviewed” journals, there really is no meaningful peer review at all. Which we already knew, not least from previous stings, but it bears repeating.

This matters because scientific publishers are companies selling a product, and the product is peer review. True, they also publish papers (electronically in the case of these journals), but if you just wanted to publish something electronically, you could do that yourself for free. Preprint archives, blogs, your own website – it’s easy to get something on the internet. Peer review is what supposedly justifies the price of publishing.

All of the nine publishers I stung are known to send spam to academics, urging them to submit papers to their journals. I’ve personally been spammed by almost all of them. All I did, as Lucas McGeorge, was test the quality of the products being advertised.

Critics of Vouchers Say They’re Marred by Racism and Exacerbate Segregation. Are They Right?

From Chalkbeat

By Matt Barnum 
July 25, 2017

Debates over “school choice” — or “privatization” to critics — were already heated.

Then came a rhetorical hand grenade: a report by the Center For American Progress describing the “racist origins” of school vouchers and presented at the American Federation of Teachers headquarters. AFT president Randi Weingarten doubled down in a recent speech, arguing that voucher programs are the “only slightly more polite cousins of segregation.”

Unsurprisingly, school choice backers have vehemently denied the charge.

“If vouchers are the polite cousins of segregation, then most urban school districts are segregation’s direct descendants,” responded Kevin Chavous of the American Federation for Children, the school voucher group that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos used to lead.

DeVos, for her part, has argued that school choice is meant to help poor families and can lead to more integrated schools.

So what do we know about the competing claims?

It’s true that the idea of public subsidies for private school tuition grew in the 1950s and 60s as a means to avoid integration efforts — and it’s also true that there has long been pockets of support for the idea among progressives.

There is little evidence that existing voucher programs have caused increases in racial segregation. But there is also reason to fear a larger initiative, one that’s not limited to low-income families, might.

And the debate is no doubt complicated by the embrace of vouchers by the Trump administration, one that advocates say is impeding civil rights on many fronts beyond education.

Here are five things you should know.

1.) Advocates for school vouchers have had diverse motives over time, including support for segregation, as well as racial justice.

Private school vouchers were used to avoid court-ordered integration in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, as The Center for American Progress report lays out.

“By 1969, more than 200 private segregation academies were set up in states across the South,” the report states. “Seven of those states — Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana — maintained tuition grant programs that offered vouchers to students in an effort to incentivize white students to leave desegregated public school districts.”

This history is echoed by a study in the Peabody Journal of Education. “From their inception, vouchers were not race-neutral instruments,” a trio of researchers write. Those early voucher programs predated the support of Milton Friedman, the economist who wrote an influential 1955 essay endorsing the idea.

Friedman’s embrace of vouchers was based on the view that expanding competition would improve outcomes for students and make schools more integrated, building upon the philosophical work from a century earlier of John Stuart Mill.

The idea also received support from more progressive corners, including Christopher Jencks, a Harvard sociologist who supported using vouchers to try to “close the gap between the disadvantaged and the advantaged.”

In a 2005 article for the Georgetown Law Journal titled “The Secret History of School Choice: How Progressives Got There First,” James Forman, Jr., now a Yale professor, acknowledges that vouchers were used to avoid integration but describes this history as “incomplete.”

He points to freedom schools established in 1964 in Mississippi by civil rights groups to educate black children who had been failed by the discriminatory public system as one example.

“By building separate schools and openly repudiating the establishment system, the freedom schools movement laid a foundation for later progressive school choice proposals,” Forman wrote.

Despite how vouchers were used in the 1950s and 1960s, the Peabody analysis points out that support for them grew among some progressives starting in the 1970s “as an antidote for overly bureaucratic big-city schools.”

The first voucher program in line with this vision was established in Milwaukee in 1990, with the support of a motley coalition of conservative Republicans and black Milwaukee Democrats. Among the latter group were Howard Fuller, who would later become Milwaukee’s school superintendent, and Polly Williams, a Democratic state senator.

The initiative was targeted at low-income families but would subsequently expand to include some middle-class students, a move that Fuller and Williams opposed. Williams would say that the program had been “hijacked.” The Milwaukee NAACP was against the city’s voucher initiative from its inception.

Private school choice programs have since grown throughout the country; many, though not all, target low- or moderate-income families, students attending public schools deemed low-performing, or students with disabilities. Leading pro-voucher groups support a dramatic expansion, including the creation of universal choice programs that all families can use.

By law, private schools that receive federal tax exemptions are now prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, though many of the original segregation academies still enroll few if any black students.

In sum, private school vouchers have been promoted by adherents with diverse motives, including some who viewed them as a way to avoid desegregation and others who saw school choice as a means to achieve racial justice.

2.) There is little evidence today that vouchers targeted at low-income families increase school segregation.

A key question now is whether voucher programs increase school segregation in practice. There is surprisingly little recent research on this topic, but the studies that do exist suggest that voucher programs for low-income students have no effect or they lead to small increases in school integration.

A recent study on Louisiana’s voucher program, which is largely used by low-income African-American students, found that black students tended to leave highly segregated public schools — but many also moved to a segregated private school. Still, more transfers had beneficial effects on integration than harmful ones.

“A third of all voucher transfers resulted in more integrated public and private schools, an additional 57 percent of transfers had mixed effects (positive effects in one sector, negative effects in another), and just 9 percent of transfers had negative effects,” as lead author Anna Egalite described the results.

A 2010 analysis of Milwaukee’s school voucher program found that it had a neutral effect on segregation. “Racially homogeneous schools make up a sizeable portion of schools in both [public and private] sectors,” the researchers wrote.

A number of older studies paint a positive picture of vouchers’ effect on integration, but this research cannot isolate cause and effect, as a report by EdChoice points out.

3.) That doesn’t mean concerns about vouchers causing segregation are completely unfounded, though.

Large-scale voucher programs — which Betsy DeVos has promised and long advocated for — could have different results.

Research on charter schools in the U.S. and on vouchers in other countries offer more clues about how school choice programs sort students.

A report by the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank, argues that vouchers threaten integration efforts, relying in part on evidence from Chile, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Sweden. Widespread choice programs have been shown to exacerbate segregation in those countries across a number of dimensions. (There are many reasons, though, that education policy lessons from other countries might not translate cleanly to the U.S.)

Research on charter schools — a form of school choice that has expanded much more rapidly than vouchers — may be a helpful guide for the effects of a universal voucher program.

Studies on charter schools in Indianapolis, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas, among other places, show that charter schools can lead to greater racial stratification. There is very little evidence suggesting charters lead to more integrated schools, though a number of specific charter schools have emphasized diversity.

National overviews have not found consistent evidence that charters cause segregation.

4.) The level of support for vouchers among black and Hispanic voters depends on how the question is worded.

Advocates for school choice often point to the support of black and Hispanic voters. An Education Next poll found that nearly 64 percent of African-Americans and 62 percent of Hispanics — compared to 50 percent of white respondents — would back a tax credit program to fund private school tuition.

But support for private school choice programs tends to drop substantially when the word “voucher” is introduced or the use of public dollars is emphasized.

According to another recent poll, just one-third of African-Americans said they would support “allowing students and parent to choose a private school to attend at public expense.” Ballot initiatives on school vouchers have also rarely been successful, though breakdowns of votes by race are not available.

5.) The Trump administration’s stance on other issues makes vouchers seem more racist to some critics.

To some, the national messenger for vouchers is just as damning as the message.

Criticism of President Trump’s positions on civil rights — his ban on travel from several predominantly Muslims countries, his appointment of Jeff Sessions as attorney general, and his voter integrity commission based on false claims of widespread voter fraud — are well documented.

“Racism is unfortunately and undeniably part of the context through which policy proposals emerging from this administration must be considered,” wrote Catherine Brown of the Center for American Progress.

But to supporters of vouchers, emphasizing the politics and not the policy amounts to opposing an idea that could help low-income kids.

“I absolutely worry about the Trump administration embrace of this issue because it’s created more of a political wedge,” Chavous of the American Federation for Children told Chalkbeat in May.

“So are we going to wait four years to find something for these parents whose kids are struggling? Are we going to wait eight years? His embrace of the issue is a challenge politically, but we still have to do something for these kids who are underserved.”

Whether vouchers actually accomplish that goal remains its own hotly contested question.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Teachers Union Boss Skewers Betsy DeVos on Vouchers, Likening Them to 'Cousins' of Segregation

From USA Today

By Greg Toppo
July 20, 2017

In a blistering speech slated to be delivered to more than 1,400 teachers here on Thursday, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten likens U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to a climate-change denier, saying DeVos refuses to acknowledge "the good in our public schools and their foundational place in our democracy."

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten 

In her speech, to be delivered at the union’s traditional summer conference, Weingarten says the Trump administration's school choice plans are secretly intended to starve funding from public schools. She calls taxpayer-funded private school vouchers, tuition tax credits and the like "only slightly more polite cousins of segregation."

An advance draft copy of the speech was obtained by USA TODAY.

Vouchers, tax credits and private, for-profit charter schools, she alleges, "hide a dangerous ideological agenda” that destabilizes public schools. “And when a family chooses a private school, in reality it is the school and not the family that makes the choice.”

In addition, Weingarten says, many private schools can — and do — discriminate against students because they’re exempt from federal civil rights laws.

A longtime Michigan school choice advocate and GOP mega-donor, DeVos has championed both public- and private-school choice, saying the ability of families to pick a school that suits their child is an elemental right.

During her Senate confirmation hearing last January, she asked lawmakers, “Why, in 2017, are we still questioning parents’ ability to exercise educational choice for their children?”

DeVos has trod a fine line on her judgments of public schools, saying that teachers "should be honored, celebrated, and freed up to do what they do best," but also that the current public system "is outdated and ultimately is not geared toward what is right and best for students."

She has, at various times, said switching schools should be as easy as choosing between ride-hailing services Über and Lyft or as easy as choosing a better mobile phone provider.

The Trump administration’s proposals for school choice have wrankled teachers’ unions, who say using public funds to send students to private schools — or to those in which large numbers of non-unionized teachers work — weakens the public system.

In her speech, Weingarten notes that school voucher plans in the South took root in the years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which struck down segregation. Rather than integrate schools, she points out, white officials in Prince Edward County, Va., closed the entire system and created whites-only private schools, paid for by taxpayer dollars.

The real pioneers of school choice, she says, are “the white politicians who resisted school integration.”

Weingarten also points out that recent research on vouchers, in particular, does not show promising results.

A June 2017 federally funded study on D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), a voucher that has been offered to families since 2012, found that it had a “statistically significant negative impact” on students’ math achievement and essentially no impact on reading after one year. Parents weren’t more satisfied with their children’s schools, but the program had a significant positive impact on parents’ perceptions of the safety of their child’s school.

The researchers noted cautiously, “Impacts could differ in later years. Also, the program operates only in the District of Columbia, and impacts could differ in other settings or locations.”

In Ohio, a 2016 study using 10 years of data found that when children transferred from public to private schools, their math scores dropped significantly. Reading scores dropped, but by not as much.

Research on vouchers elsewhere has shown sometimes unintended consequences: In Milwaukee, expansion of vouchers has kept area Catholic parishes alive, but it has also led to significant declines in churches’ donations, among other measures. One study of more than 70 parishes found that since 1999, the Milwaukee voucher program led to a $60 million decline in non-school church revenue.

Most Republicans and a handful of centrist Democrats, including the last two Democratic presidents, support school choice in the form of publicly funded but independently run charter schools — New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat often mentioned as a possible 2020 presidential candidate, last May was one of a small group of lawmakers named “Champions for Charters” by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

But Trump’s rise has fractured the bipartisan coalition supporting choice. The charter school alliance's president, Nina Rees, a one-time George W. Bush administration education official, wrote last month, "All of us need to understand that accepting the president’s support for charter schools doesn’t tie us to his whole agenda."

The U.S. Education Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Weingarten's remarks.

The Trump administration has asked lawmakers to give families billions in taxpayer-funded tuition and tax credits to help them send their kids to the school of their choice. On the campaign trail, Trump proposed $20 billion for school choice, and in his 2018 budget he proposed $1.4 billion in new spending on school choice.

But the proposals may go nowhere this year. House lawmakers last week released a spending bill that boosts the U.S. Education Department slightly but would zero out Trump’s proposals for private school choice.

Weingarten is not the only union official criticizing the new education secretary. Speaking to teachers in Boston earlier this month, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia called DeVos “the queen of for-profit privatization of public education,” saying that while the union would work with Republicans and Democrats on many issues, she said of the Trump administration, “I do not trust their motives. I do not believe their alternative facts. I see no reason to assume they will do what is best for our students and their families. There will be no photo-op.”

NEA actually took a hard line against charter schools during its Boston gathering, adopting a policy statement that said charters’ explosive growth has led to the rise of “separate and unequal systems” of schools that are “not subject to the same basic safeguards and standards that apply to public schools.”

DeVos Wants More Options for Students in Special Education

From DisabilityScoop

By Michelle Diament
July 18, 2017

In her first speech on special education, Education Secy. Betsy DeVos said students with disabilities deserve better and her agency will work to provide more choices for families.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, pictured earlier this year, told a
gathering of special educators this week that they should expect more
from students with disabilities. (U.S. Department of Education/Flickr)

Speaking at the Office of Special Education Programs Leadership Conference on Monday, DeVos said that past administrations — both Republican and Democratic — have not done enough to fulfill the promise of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

“Too many students are being failed or left behind,” DeVos told educators gathered in Arlington, Va. “It’s time we take a step back, re-evaluate and refocus our efforts to better serve our students and their families.”

DeVos said that under her watch, the Department of Education will prioritize ensuring that kids with disabilities have “appropriately ambitious goals and the chance to meet challenging objectives.”

The statement echoes a standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year in a case known as Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. In the landmark ruling, the court found that schools must provide students with disabilities more than minimal — or “de minimis” — benefit.

DeVos called the court’s ruling “common sense” and said that Endrew’s experience sheds light on the types of options that all families should have.

Dissatisfied that his public school was not pushing for more progress, Endrew’s parents placed him in a private school and then sought reimbursement from their district.

“When it comes to educating students with disabilities, failure is not an option. De minimis isn’t either,” DeVos said. “Every family should have the ability to choose the learning environment that is right for their child. They shouldn’t have to sue their way to the Supreme Court to get it.”

DeVos made a name for herself as a school choice advocate, backing charter schools and voucher programs, before she was nominated to lead the Education Department.

As the nation’s top education official, DeVos pledged to empower families.

“Parents of children with disabilities know best. They should be the ones to decide where and how their children are educated,” she said.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Prospect Of Cuts to Disability Services Looms Large

From DisabilityScoop

By Michelle Diament
July 21, 2017

With a vote anticipated on a Republican health care plan that would fundamentally transform Medicaid, disability advocates say the threat to disability services remains very real.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., center, Senate Majority Whip
John Cornyn, R-Texas, left, and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., speak to reporters
after Senate Republicans met with President Donald Trump to discuss
health care at the White House this week. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

After a week of ups and downs, Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate are determined to hold a vote on health care next week. But precisely what they will vote on remains unclear.

One option is a bill to repeal many tenets of the Affordable Care Act without any immediate plan to replace it.

Alternatively, the Senate could vote on a Republican proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act that’s been in the works for months and is similar to legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in May.

That plan calls for monumental changes to Medicaid, a program which millions of Americans with disabilities rely on for everything from doctor and hospital coverage to supports that enable them to live and work in the community.

Currently, Medicaid operates as an entitlement, with the federal government providing matching grants to help states cover the cost of services for anyone who meets eligibility requirements. Under the Republican proposal, however, Uncle Sam would provide a fixed amount for each beneficiary regardless of the true cost of their care leaving states to make up any difference.

The Congressional Budget Office said this week that the most recent version of the Republican bill to replace the Affordable Care Act would lead to $756 billion less in federal funding for Medicaid by 2026.

Such a decline in spending would no doubt force states to scale back their offerings, disability advocates say. And, since home and community-based services are considered optional under current Medicaid policy, these offerings would likely be the first to go, they say.

It’s not certain that either approach — repeal and replace or repeal and delay — has the votes to succeed. But advocates are leaning on people with disabilities and their families to speak up.

“We’re telling our base, and people across the country, that it’s not over yet,” said Julia Bascom, executive director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “We have to fight harder than ever in these final days to save Medicaid and protect our health care, and we need every voice to do it.”

Earlier this week, The Arc hand-delivered nearly 1,000 letters to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., from people nationwide expressing why Medicaid matters to them.

Meanwhile, the self-advocacy group ADAPT, which has held demonstrations on Capitol Hill and in numerous cities that have led to dozens of arrests over the last month, continues to hold protests calling on senators to oppose the health care bill. And, the National Council on Independent Living is hosting a march and rally for disability rights in Washington on Tuesday.

“We urge senators to oppose this legislation,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc. “The cuts to Medicaid included in this bill are an assault on people with disabilities.”

Boser and Baffour: Making School Integration Work for the 21st Century

From The 74 Million

By Ulrich Boser and Perpetual Baffour
July 5, 2017

Countless studies show that segregation by income is growing worse in public schools, but the national response to this trend has been disappointing. The Trump administration recently ended the Opening Doors, Expanding Opportunities program, a federal initiative that would have supported local school efforts to increase socioeconomic diversity.

State courts, once a powerful tool for school integration, have lifted desegregation orders and released districts from their jurisdiction. And although some districts are opting for their own integration plans, they make up a small portion — less than 1 percent — of all public school systems in the country.

Sadly, too few districts have active policies in place to boost income diversity. What’s worse, 4 out of every 10 school districts are highly segregated by income, as we discuss in our latest report, Isolated and Segregated: A New Look at the Income Divide in our Nation’s Schooling System.”

In the study, we find that class-based segregation remains deeply entrenched in the education system. Put differently, public schools are in as much need of integration now as they were 100 years ago.

To some Americans, school integration is an old-school reform, a thing of the past. This appeared to be true when the Supreme Court decided in 2007 in Parents Involved in Community Schools to limit the use of race in school integration plans. However, the reform remains current, and some districts are invested in promising policies that may produce better results for school diversity in the 21st century compared with decades past.

For our report, we conducted focus group sessions with parents from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., metro areas and found that just about every parent saw the value of school diversity.

One said that attending socioeconomically diverse schools teaches students “to have empathy and appreciate what they have.” Another said students will have “a better understanding of broader economic inequity issues and underlying causes.”

But there was no shared consensus on which desegregation policy best achieved it. Some parents said they believed in more public school options, while others did not want to opt out of their neighborhood schools. Some parents were proud of their schools’ academic excellence, while others were more concerned about maintaining their schools’ cultural and historical significance in their communities.

In the focus groups, most parents favored integration approaches that “happened naturally” by incentivizing families to enroll in diverse schools or move to diverse neighborhoods. Families were especially interested in policies that encouraged schools to offer special programs, like intensive technology or foreign language instruction, that foster diversity.

Conversely, families had strong reservations about redistricting policies, saying such approaches can shake community stability and affect property values.

While it may seem impossible for education leaders to accommodate these different voices, interests, and perspectives, one way to make integration work for all families in the 21st century is to empower them to develop solutions themselves. School and district leaders should include racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse parents in the planning, implementation, and evaluation stages of school integration plans.

Districts should also leverage school events to share information and gather informal feedback about integration policies from a wide range of families. Parents’ voices matter, and exclusionary policies will not effect change. Communities are more likely to find solutions that are innovative, inclusive, effective, and sustainable when all members have a seat at the table.

Some education leaders are also aligning their school diversity goals with their school improvement objectives, framing the issue of integration as one of school quality. They recognize that the goal of integration isn’t just diverse schools; it should be a better, more enriching educational experience through diverse schools.

To do this, some schools and districts are creating socioeconomic indexes to evaluate diversity. Some districts use the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunch — a simple metric that does not require schools to collect additional information, but also does not capture the full nuance and diversity of socioeconomic demographics. Other districts are using students’ eligibility for public assistance or census data, which provide a more nuanced glimpse of levels of poverty.

Citizens of the World Charter Schools, a national network that is racially and socioeconomically diverse, offers a useful example. Not only does the network intentionally recruit families of varying backgrounds, but its learning models are specifically designed to accommodate its diverse learning community.

The curriculum centers on themes of cultural appreciation and includes a globally diverse selection of reading materials. Students are consistently encouraged to acknowledge and discuss their peers’ respective cultures.

Research confirms that these sorts of learning experiences offer numerous benefits for every child. Classroom diversity improves students’ cognitive ability, enhances their emotional intelligence, and helps them develop greater cross-cultural tolerance. All students — rich and poor, white and nonwhite alike — are recipients of these benefits.

But while there are pockets of change bubbling in a few areas, most students are not learning in diverse classrooms. Public schools continue to sort students based on their social and economic status, and our research found hundreds of highly segregated districts across the nation.

Education leaders must take active steps to elevate the issue of school segregation and revamp integration policy. The time is now to put an end to the deepening divides in the nation’s public school system.

Ulrich Boser is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Perpetual Baffour is a former research associate at the Center for American Progress.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Thoughts on Bright, Low-Income Students Who Are "Counted Out" of Gifted and Advanced Classes

From the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer
via the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute

By Mary Ruth Coleman
June 24, 2017

In this op-ed, FPG's Mary Ruth Coleman explains the importance of focusing on inequities in the placement of bright students from low-income homes in programs intended to challenge students identified as academically and intellectually gifted.

Zaman Timmons and Ethan Rivers, fifth-graders at Montlieu Academy of Technology
in High Point , participate in a math class for intellectually gifted students. Montlieu
is a 95 percent minority and 98 percent free and reduced lunch school
yet places a high percentage of students in its gifted program.

The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer are to be commended for their recent series, “Counted Out,” for focusing on the persistent inequities in the placement of bright, low-income students in programs intended to challenge students identified as academically and intellectually gifted.

The stories correctly argued that our failure to meet the needs of these students shortchanges them individually and also the state and nation, which depend on the success of all – regardless of race, ethnicity or income level.

Education in North Carolina and elsewhere remains a work in progress; whether the focus is on students who struggle to master basic skills or those who are outpacing their peers. The achievement gaps across student populations continue as an injustice and a challenge to schools everywhere.

These gaps are also a test of political will for individual communities, our state and our nation. Success in closing these gaps demands committed leadership, sufficient resources, effective strategies and caring and capable educators, as well as strong partnerships with families.

The data reported in the series presents a troubling picture, and it is also a clarion call to collective action.

We in North Carolina are well positioned to answer this call. We have clear and supportive laws, policies and leadership. We have exemplars of where things are working well, and we have knowledgeable, committed individuals at all levels who can help bring these practices to scale.

Our legislature provides a broad definition of giftedness, and it is unequivocal that “outstanding abilities are present in students from all cultural groups, across all economic strata, and in all areas of human endeavor.”

The N.C. Board of Education goes further – explicitly setting standards to guide local school districts:

“Gifted learners from under-represented populations are often overlooked in gifted programming; therefore, they require purposeful and intentional support to ensure that their potential is recognized, developed and served.”

North Carolina’s policies supporting gifted education were cited in a 2015 national report, “Equal Talents, Unequal Opportunities” by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, among those of just six states to earn the highest awarded score (a B-minus) for strong state-level guidance and leadership. While we are proud of this recognition, it’s time now to move to an A-plus.

Strong, statewide laws and policies provide the foundation for practice. Fully implementing these, however, is more challenging. North Carolina’s gaps in gifted education programs are clear and sobering evidence that significant hurdles remain. What must we do now?

We must identify what is working. Where have we seen success in nurturing, recognizing and responding to our high-potential, underrepresented students to safeguard their access to gifted programs? Identifying these “pockets of excellence” allows us to understand how the problem is being solved around the state so that we can bring these practices to scale.

Some effective practices, currently being used across identification, programing and policy, include ensuring there are not multiple hoops for identification, but that multiple criteria are used as evidence of a student’s strengths. Supporting the specialists’ who work with Academically or Intellectually Gifted (AIG) students in collaboration with regular classroom teachers and including students in advanced classes who may not necessarily be identified as AIG but who would benefit from advanced content.

Mary Ruth Coleman, Ph.D. is senior scientist emerita at the FPG Child Development Institute at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Brain Carnitine Deficiency Causes Nonsyndromic Autism with an Extreme Male Bias: A Hypothesis

From Wiley Online Library

By Arthur L. Beaudet
July 13, 2017


Could 10–20% of autism be prevented?

We hypothesize that nonsyndromic or “essential” autism involves extreme male bias in infants who are genetically normal, but they develop deficiency of carnitine and perhaps other nutrients in the brain causing autism that may be amenable to early reversal and prevention.

That brain carnitine deficiency might cause autism is suggested by reports of severe carnitine deficiency in autism and by evidence that TMLHE deficiency − a defect in carnitine biosynthesis − is a risk factor for autism.

A gene on the X chromosome (SLC6A14) likely escapes random X-inactivation (a mixed epigenetic and genetic regulation) and could limit carnitine transport across the blood-brain barrier in boys compared to girls.

A mixed, common gene variant-environment hypothesis is proposed with diet, minor illnesses, microbiome, and drugs as possible risk modifiers. The hypothesis can be tested using animal models and by a trial of carnitine supplementation in siblings of probands.

Perhaps the lack of any Recommended Dietary Allowance for carnitine in infants should be reviewed.

Introduction and Hypothesis

Understanding the biochemical basis of a rare genetic disorder sometimes sheds light on the processes underlying a more common disease. The discovery of a not so rare inborn error of carnitine biosynthesis (deficiency of the X-linked TMLHE gene) may prove to be such a case.

This deficiency, discovered in males with non-dysmorphic autism [1], prevents the synthesis of carnitine from trimethyllysine. Although 1 in 350 males (estimated ∼460,000 males in USA) have TMLHE deficiency, only about 3% of these males develop autism, with most of the remainder becoming healthy adults; furthermore, less than 1% of autistic males have TMLHE deficiency.

Nevertheless, we believe there are compelling reasons to think that brain deficiency of carnitine and perhaps other micronutrients such as essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) can cause autism with an extreme male bias, and that 10–20% of cases of autism could be prevented by changes in infant nutrition.

Video Abstract

Arthur Beaudet discusses the importance of diet, genes, epigenetics, drugs, microbiome, and minor illnesses (especially gastrointestinal) in the hypothesis. Carnitine is absorbed from the intestine to the blood for distribution to liver, kidney, skeletal and cardiac muscle, and across the bloodbrain barrier. Carnitine can be synthesized in liver, kidney, and brain. Read the full article here:

Sunday, July 23, 2017

What Should Special Education Teachers Know and Be Able to Do?

From Education Week's Blog
"On Special Education"

By Christina Samuels
July 18, 2017

Special education teacher Elizabeth Rosenberry, right, uses singing in a
lesson to encourage Jesus Torres-Tiamani, left, to make eye contact.
Emile Wamsteker for Education Week.

A newly-minted special education teacher should be able to:
  • "collaborate with professionals to increase student success; 
  • "use multiple sources of information" to understand a student's strengths and needs, and, 
  • "systematically design instruction toward specific learning goals."

These skills are among 22 "high-leverage practices" for special education teachers that were developed by the Council for Exceptional Children and the federally-supported Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability and Reform, also known as CEEDAR. 

Representatives for the groups have been spreading the word about their work this year, including during a session here at the annual leadership conference sponsored by the federal office of special education programs.

It's taken nearly two years to develop the practices, which are grouped into four categories: collaboration, assessment, social/emotional/behavioral, and instructional. Twelve of the 22 practices fit under the instructional umbrella.

And it also took some time to settle on the 22, said Deborah Ziegler, the director of policy and advocacy for the CEC. "We spent hours debating the issues," she said.

Ultimately, the groups working on the practices chose these because they are research-based, broadly applicable to any content area, considered fundamental to effective teaching, and skills that can be taught to preservice professionals.

Teacher-education programs have already started to shift their training to embrace the high-leverage practices, including in Oregon. Sarah Drinkwater, the state director of special education for Oregon, said the high-level practices have given schools of education a "common language" to use when thinking about how to prepare well-qualified teachers.

Teacher training that focuses on educational practices "represents a shift in the way we've been doing our work," said Paula Lancaster, the director of teacher education at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids. Her university is among several in the state that are incorporating the "high-leverage practices" into their training.

"What we need now is focus," Lancaster said. " Now it's time to dig a little bit deeper into the high-leverage practices, and what our expectations for our candidates are."

Trump Wants to Spend Millions More on School Vouchers. But What’s Happened to the Millions Already Spent?

From The Washington Post

By Mandy McLaren and Emma Brown
July 15, 2017

Congress dedicates $15 million a year to a program that helps low-income D.C. students pay tuition at private schools, but it’s impossible for taxpayers to find out where their money goes: The administrator of the D.C. voucher program refuses to say how many students attend each school or how many public dollars they receive.

Yonathan Dawit studies math at Bridges Academy, a private D.C. school
where the majority of students get federally funded vouchers to pay tuition.

It’s also not clear how students are performing in each school. When Congress created the program in 2004, it did not require individual private schools to disclose anything about student performance. And private schools can continue receiving voucher dollars no matter how poorly their students fare.

President Trump has said the D.C. voucher program is “what winning for young children and kids from all over the country looks like,” and he has freed up millions of dollars in federal funds to expand it, allowing nearly triple the number of students to participate by next school year.

He and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have also pledged to expand private-school choice programs across the country, many of which now make it difficult to track how tax dollars are spent and whether they’re improving student achievement.

For DeVos, who has spent three decades supporting the expansion of state-level voucher programs, it’s more important for parents to have choices than it is for the public to have data.

“Parents know — or can figure out — what learning environment is best for their child, and we must give them the right to choose where that may be,” DeVos said in May. Every school receiving public money should be held accountable, she said, “but they should be directly accountable to parents and communities, not to Washington, D.C., bureaucrats.”

[DeVos praises this Florida program. Here’s what it means for school choice.]

Of the ten largest private-school choice programs in the nation, at least three do not publish information about how many students are served at each school or how much money those schools receive, according to a Washington Post review.

Seven of the programs either don’t require that voucher students take standardized tests to make it possible to compare their performance with that of peers at public schools, or, if they do, they do not require schools to make those scores public.

And at least eight have no minimum performance requirements, meaning that a school can do exceedingly poorly and continue to receive taxpayer funds.

Asked to comment on whether DeVos views the lack of public information as a problem, Liz Hill, her spokeswoman, wrote that parents don’t need “more data sets, they need more options.”

“A child’s progress — or lack thereof — is fully transparent to his or her parents,” Hill said. “When a robust choice program exists and students are no longer stuck in a mandated system, the ultimate accountability for schools is whether or not parents choose to send their children there.”

The view that parents can hold schools accountable for results is a striking departure from the federal government’s approach over the past 15 years, which — under presidents of both parties — has sought to improve public schools by publicizing test scores and forcing change at those with persistently low achievement.

DeVos has declared that approach a failure for too many struggling students, and her public argument in favor of alternatives to traditional public schools centers on the experiences of individual students whose lives were changed by the opportunity to attend the school of their choice.

There is no question that some students have benefited tremendously from the D.C. voucher program, known as the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Quienten Bennett, a recent graduate of the District’s St. John’s College High, turned down the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and Georgetown University to attend the U.S. Naval Academy — a school that admits just nine percent of applicants — in the fall.

His mother, Vernell Bennett, is a single parent who lives in what she described as “the bad part” of Southeast Washington. She said none of her son’s prestigious college options would have been available to him if not for the voucher that allowed him to attend St. John’s, where tuition tops $18,000 year.

Her two other children also received D.C. vouchers, graduated from private high schools and went on to well-regarded colleges. “The Opportunity Scholarship has given three of my kids the opportunity to not be a statistic,” Bennett said. “It introduced them to another world.”

But critics of the D.C. voucher program — the only one funded by the federal government — say there’s no way to know whether the Bennetts’ experience is the norm or the exception.

D.C.’s Charter Experiment

A Republican-led Congress created the District’s program in 2004, and although it is small — serving only 1,100 students this year — it has attracted attention over the years as an experiment in school choice conducted in the nation’s capital.

It currently provides poor children with scholarships of up to $8,452 to attend a private elementary or middle school and up to $12,679 for high school.

The program has undoubtedly allowed some students an escape from troubled neighborhood schools. But there have long been questions about whether oversight of the program is adequate.

[From the archive: Quality controls lacking for D.C. schools accepting federal vouchers]

Private schools receiving D.C. voucher dollars must become accredited by 2021, but they otherwise face few requirements beyond showing that they are in good financial standing and comply with basic health and safety laws.

Schools must also administer nationally standardized math and reading tests to voucher students each year, and they must release those scores to parents and to the Education Department to be used in evaluations of the program.

But they do not report test results publicly, as public schools are required to, which makes it impossible for policymakers — not to mention prospective students and their families — to compare how voucher students fare at different schools.

On the whole, voucher recipients performed worse on standardized tests a year after transferring into private schools than their peers who stayed in public school did, according to a federal study published in April. Previous studies found that voucher recipients graduate from high school at far higher rates than their public-school counterparts.

[Nation’s only federally funded voucher program has negative effect on student achievement, study finds]

Voucher advocates emphasize that parents care far less about test scores than education policy wonks do and that they should be trusted to choose schools that work well for their children.

“Something magical happens when parents feel they have the power to decide where their kids go to school and they actually shop around,” said Kevin Chavous, a former D.C. council member who lobbied Congress for the voucher program. For families whose income is less than $21,000 a year, the chance to exercise control in education is “a landmark thing in urban America,” he said.

Tommy Schultz, a spokesman for the American Federation for Children — an advocacy group DeVos founded and chaired before becoming education secretary — said tax dollars often flow to public schools that consistently fail students.

“While we continue to advocate for policies that create strong programs and improve existing ones, our opponents in the education establishment and the self-interested unions are content to sit on their hands and let chronically languishing schools with dismal track records of performance continue to shuffle students through the doors with no other options.”

Relying on Vouchers

While spending by public schools in D.C. and elsewhere is public information, it is not clear where the voucher money goes.

Congress sends about $15 million each year to a nonprofit administrator of the program that, in turn, gives scholarships to District children for use at private schools. The nonprofit, Serving Our Children, refused a request for data on the number of students who attend each school and the number of voucher dollars that flow to each school.

Lawyers advised against releasing such information to avoid violating a clause in the law that prohibits the disclosure of “personally identifiable information,” according to Rachel Sotsky, executive director of the organization.

Students study in two classrooms at Bridges Academy, in
Northwest Washington. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Of the 47 private schools that participate in the program, 15 responded to Washington Post inquiries about the number of voucher students they serve. That limited information shows that although some of Washington’s elite private schools enroll just a few students, or none at all, others — many of them small operations run out of churches or storefronts — rely heavily on voucher dollars.

Beauvoir, an elementary school on the grounds of Washington National Cathedral where tuition tops $35,000, enrolled no voucher students in 2017, school officials said. Sidwell Friends, famous for educating the children of presidents, including Barack Obama, has enrolled one or two voucher recipients each year.

But at the Academy for Ideal Education — which offers “stress free, holistic learning” that helps students integrate the right and left hemispheres of their brains, according to its website — 27 of 30 students are on vouchers, according to a receptionist at the school, housed in a low-slung brick building alongside a church in Northeast Washington. The owner, Paulette Jones-Bell Imaan, refused to speak to a reporter.

Thirty-nine of 45 students — 87 percent — of students at Academia de la Recta Porta International Christian Day School, a small school run out of a storefront along Georgia Avenue in Northwest Washington, are on vouchers, according to Annette Miles, who runs the school. Eighty-one percent of students at Calvary Christian Academy, in a church in Brentwood, pay tuition with vouchers.

All eight of Jamie Youngblood’s children attend or attended Bridges Academy, a K-8 school in Brightwood where 69 percent of students use vouchers.

Bridges prepared her children for high school in a way Youngblood doubted her neighborhood school in Southeast would have done, she said. It offers small classes and a well-rounded set of experiences, from an etiquette class where her sons learned to tie a necktie to class trips to places as diverse as Bermuda, Seattle and Tennessee.

The voucher program, she said, “is one of the best things they’ve done for our kids’ education.”

Critics also say some students with special needs have a hard time using vouchers. Private-school profiles published by Serving Our Children, the voucher administrator, show that one in five do not serve students with learning disabilities; half don’t serve students with physical disabilities; and two-thirds don’t serve students learning English as a second language.

Vouchers provide schools with fewer dollars per child, on average, than public school funding does for its students. Abigail Smith, who served as deputy mayor for education under Mayor Vincent Gray, said she’s concerned that schools that rely heavily on vouchers therefore must cut corners and pay low teacher salaries or refuse to serve children with the most intensive needs.

The lack of transparency means there is no way to know which schools rely heavily on vouchers, what those schools offer or how their students fare, Smith said.

“If there’s no visibility into it, you just can’t know,” she said. “The lack of information really concerns me.”

Lillette Campbell founded Bridges Academy along Georgia Avenue
37 years ago. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

This article was produced in partnership with the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, where McLaren is a student.