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Monday, July 31, 2017

Study: School Culture, Policies Drive Use of Restraint and Seclusion

From DisabilityScoop

By Michelle Diament
July 25, 2017

New research suggests that local factors may play the biggest role in determining how likely students with disabilities are to experience restraint and seclusion at school.

An analysis looking at rates of restraint and seclusion of those with disabilities in American schools across two years finds that most districts rarely employ the practices while a small group of districts report “exceedingly high rates.”

In many cases, however, researchers found that variation between high-use and low-use districts was most pronounced within the same states.

“Although state differences do exist, such differences are overshadowed by the much more meaningful differences that are present between districts of the same state,” wrote researchers from the University of New Hampshire in their findings published recently in the Journal of Disability Policy Studies.

For the study, researchers looked at data on school district use of restraint and seclusion reported to the U.S. Department of Education for the 2009-2010 and 2011-2012 school years.

The majority of districts reported no use of restraint or seclusion. However, the study found that among a small number of districts, the practices are “relatively common.”

These trends persisted in states with and without policies limiting the use of restraint and seclusion, the study found.

“It appears that the use of these practices is likely driven to a meaningful degree by local policy and school culture more generally,” the study authors concluded.

“It could be that legislation alone will likely have little impact on the frequency of restraint and seclusion if the necessary training is not also supplied.”

My Son is in Special Education and I Want Him to Be Challenged

From nprEd
How learning happens.

By Margaret Gilmour
July 11, 2017

By the time my younger son is midway through third grade, I realize that his academic progress has stalled. He's stuck somewhere between kindergarten and first grade.
School is a struggle for him. He has a language-based learning disability, which affects how long it takes for him to process new information before he can respond.

We have safeguards — classroom accommodations and an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, a document required by law for students who receive special education — to keep him on track.

Except, that he isn't.

Desperate to wake him, we begin working through stacks of math and reading materials I amass at home, ones that I found researching teaching approaches designed specifically for kids with language-processing issues.

I see his potential. With little distraction, we move forward, mastering concepts at our own pace.

But at school, his progress remains at a standstill.

Here's the thing: Undeterred by his lack of progress, my son loves school and rises ready and willing to begin his day. He's a social kid who consumes his world in great detail, even as it comes to him in rapid-fire sequence that he soaks up in slow motion.

And he appears to be content.

But even as a fourth-grader, his days are filled with teachable moments followed by mini breaks—movie watching, song singing and walks throughout the long hallways, all rewards for completing a single assignment.

In our annual IEP meeting, I request that my son be challenged for longer periods of time and encouraged to struggle through problems to reach a solution.

I point to Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck's research on growth mindset, demonstrating the brain's capacity for unlimited potential. The research shows how neurons in the brain can grow new connections when effort is applied. Plus, when students learn that they can actually get smarter and grow new brain cells by trying harder, their test scores improve.

I bring up recent studies verifying failure as a crucial part of the learning process.

I contrast the team's strategies to motivate special ed students with approaches used in general education. My older son, for example, was fed a rigorous curriculum punctuated with high expectations that he met with little fanfare.

As the meeting wraps up, it's agreed to encourage my son to work harder.

Students in general education are required to meet well-defined standards written for grade-specific goals. In special education, there are not set academic standards.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, federal law rules my child's right to a Free Appropriate Public Education, known as FAPE, which includes specific support services outlined in his IEP.

Without any incentive to get students in special education at, or near grade-level standards, though, minimal progress is acceptable under FAPE.

Hopefully, what is considered an appropriate education will change as the future of FAPE came to a head in March this year at the Supreme Court. In Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, the Court ruled unanimously in favor of providing students with disabilities more challenging objectives to establish consistent progress.

All kids, despite their differences, are young aspirants and should be encouraged to reach their optimal potential. Creative teaching methods and research-based programs must be coupled with consistent and credible expectations to drive students, no matter what type of learner, to advance academically.

But months after the annual IEP meeting, I see no change in my son's ability.

Frustrated with his lack of achievement and concern for his future, I pull my child from public school in the middle of fifth grade and place him in a specialized learning environment.

At his new private school, students are not considered special, and therefore not treated as such. High expectations, little distraction and a rigorous curriculum thrust every child forward.

With focused, strategic interventions and multi-sensory instruction, he advances two grade levels.

Now, at the age of fourteen, my son is toiling his way through his education again, after almost two years in the small school for kids with learning differences.

And I have learned that no matter where my child gets his education—intimate environment, at home, spacious public school —that not one place fits all.

Which brings me to the day, in the spring of 2016, when my teen is about to start seventh grade and we are touring yet another a potential change in his environment: our local middle school. I believe in a public education and the benefits of inclusion.

Inclusion means my son, despite his learning differences, is placed in a regular ed classroom for the majority of the day, with necessary accommodations.

Inclusion only works as long as the school accepts that all students can be equal participants and are pushed to reach their potential. And, when trained educators are given the support they need to make inclusion successful.

Baltimore's One Year Plus, as an example, sets goal standards for students with disabilities (who are not severely impaired) at grade level or 12 months behind, with specific academic expectations being met annually.

And a few New York City schools follow a program called ASD NEST, where high-functioning students with Autism work in small, highly specialized teams focused on language and special skills development, but follow grade-level curriculum alongside peers who are typical learners.

I am looking for a setting where my son will not only continue the headway made in the private school—but a place where he can trek through adolescence, socializing with his peers and participate daily in activities he thrives on like chorus, music and physical education.

I meet with the district's Director of Special Education. We collaborate on IEP goals that include pushing my teen to work hard and encouraging self-reliance. He will be expected to navigate the campus on his own.

The day of the tour, the halls are vacant except for the occasional student or teacher scurrying past. Our guide is an eighth-grade boy from the learning support class. Chatty and confident, he manages his way around the sweeping corridors with ease.

At one point, our trio peeks through the window of the band room door. The music teacher waves us in, but we don't want to interrupt. We continue on past the large library and two cafeterias, then step inside the auditorium to watch kids from theater club morph into a wave crashing on stage.

Before leaving, classes end and my son and I turn to watch the sea of students fill the halls.

"What do you think?" I ask him. "It's a pretty big school."

He hesitates, processing the morning's events before turning to leave. I know he's hungry for music class, chorus, outdoor clubs and groups of kids he can connect to. This is why we are here today.

"I think it's pretty cool," he says.

Which means we're going to give it a try.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Females with Autism Show Greater Difficulty with Day-to-Day Tasks than Male Counterparts

From Children's National Health System
via ScienceDaily

July 14, 2017

Women and girls with autism may face greater challenges with real world planning, organization and other daily living skills, according to a study published in the journal Autism Research.

Led by researchers within the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Children's National Health System, the National Institute of Mental Health, and The George Washington University, the study is the largest to date examining executive function-including the ability to make a plan, get organized, and follow through on the plan as needed-and adaptive skills-ability to perform basic daily tasks like getting up and dressed or making small talk- in women and girls with ASD.

"Our goal was to look at real world skills, not just the diagnostic behaviors we use clinically to diagnose ASD, to understand how people are actually doing in their day to day lives," says Allison Ratto Ph.D., , a psychologist in the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Children's National and one of the study's authors.

"When parents were asked to rate a child's day-to-day functioning, it turns out that girls were struggling more with these independence skills. This was surprising because in general, girls with ASD have better social and communication skills during direct assessments. The natural assumption would be that those communication and social skills would assist them to function more effectively in the world, but we found that this isn't always the case."

The study collected parent-reported data from several rating scales of executive function and adaptive behavior, including the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function, Parent Form (BRIEF) and the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales-II (VABS-II).

The group included 79 females and 158 males meeting clinical criteria for autism spectrum disorders, ranging in ages from 7 to 18 years old. The groups were matched for intelligence, age and level of autism and ADHD symptoms.

The findings are part of a growing body of research focused on how ASD may affect females differently than males. The ratio of boys to girls with autism is approximately three to one. As a result of the larger numbers of males, existing data is predominantly focused on traits and challenges in that population. This is especially true in clinical trials, where enrollment is overwhelmingly male.

"Our understanding of autism is overwhelmingly based on males, similar to the situation faced by the medical community once confronted with heart disease research being predominantly male," notes Lauren Kenworthy, Ph.D., director of the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders and the study's senior author.

"We know how to identify signs, symptoms, and treatments for autism in males, but we know very little about unique aspects of it in females."

The historical lack of specific discovery around how autism presents in females may contribute to misdiagnosis or delay, and prevent implementation of necessary interventions. Such delays can have a major impact on outcomes, as recent research has demonstrated the critical importance of early diagnosis and intervention in ASD.

"Our focus in caring for children with autism is equipping ALL of them with strategies and skills to allow them to function and succeed in day-to-day living," Dr. Kenworthy continues. "This study highlights that some common assumptions about the severity of challenges faced by girls with ASD may be wrong, and we may need to spend more time building the adaptive and executive function skills of these females if we want to help them thrive."

"Enhancing our understanding of how biological differences change the presentation of autism in the long term is crucial to giving every person with ASD the tools they need to succeed in life," she concludes.

Journal Reference
  • Emily I. White, Gregory L. Wallace, Julia Bascom, Anna C. Armour, Kelly Register-Brown, Haroon S. Popal, Allison B. Ratto, Alex Martin, Lauren Kenworthy. Sex differences in parent-reported executive functioning and adaptive behavior in children and young adults with autism spectrum disorder. Autism Research, 2017; DOI: 10.1002/aur.1811

Education Inequality Starts Early

From U.S. News & World Report

By Sara Mead
July 27, 2017

Upper-middle-class American professionals spend a lot on their children's education and development. That fact – hardly news to anyone who has spent time with such parents – has gotten a lot of media attention lately, thanks to a new book by Brookings scholar Richard Reeves and a David Brooks column.

Reeves' contention – that affluent professionals' investments in their kids serve to entrench a system of education-based privilege that makes it very hard for children from less advantaged backgrounds to advance up the socioeconomic ladder – has spurred heated debates on mainstream and social media.

These debates, however, often overlook just how early disparities in learning begin. Abundant research also shows that children's earliest learning experiences and outcomes also vary considerable based on their parents' incomes and education.

The famous Hart and Risley study shows that children of professional parents are exposed to 30 million more words before age three than children from families in poverty, with significant consequences for language and cognitive development.

Middle-class children are also more likely to be read to or exposed to educational and cultural opportunities, such as museums, zoos and libraries, than children in poverty.

As a result, by the time they enter kindergarten, children from the lowest socioeconomic backgrounds are already far behind their peers in the highest quartile of socioeconomic status on measures of early reading and math skills.


High-quality early childhood education programs can prevent or mitigate these disparities, but our current early care and education arrangements often exacerbate them instead. With 65 percent of mothers of young children working, most families need some type of child care for their children while mom is at work, but families' ability to access quality care varies based on income.

Paying for care is a big challenge for low-income families: Census data indicates that poor families who pay for childcare spend 30 percent of their incomes on care, compared to 8 percent for families not in poverty.

This means that lower-income families are less likely to send their children to formal child care at all, instead relying on a patchwork of informal arrangements. But such unstable arrangements don't support children's development or their parents' ability to maintain stable employment.

For low-income families who do use formal child care, the high percentage of income going to care means less money for other investments in children's learning and development, such as books, museum trips or college savings.

The upshot is that children who most need quality early learning are the least likely to get it: Nearly 90 percent of 4-year-olds from families making over $100,000 attend preschool, compared to less than two-thirds of children in poverty. Programs like Head Start and state-funded preschool help many low-income children.

But working-class and moderate-income children, whose parents make too much to qualify for publicly funded programs, but not enough to afford private preschool, are less likely than either rich or poor kids to attend preschool, amplifying the growing education disparities between children of professional and working class parents.

Are these early learning disparities solely a reflection of professional parents' type-A approach to childrearing? Sure, some upper-middle-class parents do some ridiculous things in the name of supporting their preschoolers' development.

The deeper issue here, however, is that our country lacks systems of support for parents across the income spectrum to raise their children.

The United States is the only developed country that does not guarantee some paid maternity leave. We are also unique among developed countries in that our public policies and systems for early childhood education are not built on an expectation of universal access to preschool for all children ages 3-5. And we spend a smaller percentage of GDP on supporting young children and their families than most developed countries.


To be clear, parents, not government, are responsible for raising young children. But public policies can support parents to fulfill their responsibilities by helping them balance family and work responsibilities, cultivating a stable and thriving child care market, and helping lower and moderate income families pay for the costs of child care and early education. Our current systems and policies by and large don't do that. And as a result, too many American families are largely on their own.

This has particularly negative effects for low-income children and their families, who lack the resources that enable affluent families to compensate for gaps in our current systems. But the status quo doesn't work that well for affluent families, either. Much has been written about elite professional parents' struggles to balance demands of work and family. And in many urban areas, highly educated professionals can't find the kinds of high-quality early-learning experiences they want for their children, even when they can afford to pay dearly for them. The same forces that price low-income families out of the market also undermine supply of the services that higher-income families want.

Yet that depressing reality may also provide a reason for hope: In his book and articles, Reeves highlights policies and systemic arrangements, in both public K-12 schooling and higher education, that entrench the educational advantage of affluent Americans, creating a perceived zero sum game where efforts to advance equity for disadvantaged youngsters garner opposition from affluent parents seeking to preserve their children's advantages.

There is room for disagreement about Reeves' diagnosis.


In early childhood, however, where current systemic arrangements fail to meet the needs of both low-income families and more affluent parents, there's an opportunity to build common cause around strategies to support parents and strengthen the early childhood sector in ways that both enhance equity for disadvantaged children and help affluent parents to find and purchase the kinds of high-quality care they want.

Some critics have argued that increased public investment in early childhood programs, such as universal preschool, will increase, rather than mitigate educational inequities, because affluent parents will find ways to manipulate new programs to further advance their children's advantages. This is largely a policy design, question, however.

Many other countries have been able to build systems that make preschool universally accessible and support all families, while also targeting increased support to the most at-risk children, thereby mitigating inequities. And these systems seem to work better in addressing inequality than the patchwork of means-tested early learning programs that exists in the United States today.

Inequitable access to educational opportunity is a serious problem in our country today – and one that starts far sooner than we often realize. If we're serious about extending opportunity and increasing social mobility for all children, we need to start sooner.

Sara Mead is a partner with Bellwether Education Partners, a national nonprofit dedicated to helping education organizations become more effective in their work and achieve dramatic results for students. In this role, she writes and conducts policy analysis on issues related to early childhood education and K-12 education reform and provides strategic advising support to clients serving high-need students. Follow her on Twitter at @saramead.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Report: School Violence, Bullying Down in US Public Schools

From The Associated Press
via The Seattle Times

By The Associated Press
July 27, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of violent attacks and incidents of bullying in American public schools has gone down in recent years, according to a federal report published Thursday.

Violence and bullying were more frequent in middle schools than in high schools or elementary schools, said the study by the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics.

The report said the rate of violent incidents in middle schools dropped from 40 incidents per 1,000 students in the 2009-2010 school year to 27 incidents in 2015-2016. Bullying in middle schools was observed in 39 percent of schools in 2009-2010, compared to 22 percent last school year.

In 2009-2010, when the previous such survey was conducted, about 46 percent of schools reported that their students were threatened without a weapon and 8 percent with a weapon, compared to 39 percent and 9 percent respectively during the last school year.

Substance abuse stayed unchanged. Last school year, 25 percent of schools reported at least one drug-related incident, same as in the previous study.

The survey was based on a random sample of some 3,500 schools. It did not provide an explanation for the trends.

BSEA Applies Work Product Protection to Non-lawyer Advocate Materials and Communications; The Ruling Also Cautions on Therapeutic/Medical Records

From Special Education Today
A Special Education Law Blog from Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP

By Robert K. Crabtree, Esq.
July 28, 2017

In a Ruling in the matter of In Re: Dorian issued on July 20, BSEA Hearing Officer Amy Reichbach held that communications and materials of non-lawyer special education advocates are subject to the protections of the work product doctrine.

The hearing officer reasoned that such protection is necessary in order to minimize the potential chilling effect that discovery of such information would have on parents’ and their consultants’ ability to communicate freely when special education litigation is anticipated.

The hearing officer’s analysis vindicates arguments that parent attorneys and advocates have advanced for some time now (see, e.g., our posting on the subject in June, 2015). We hope and trust that her reasoning will be adopted by her colleagues at the BSEA.

Relying largely on the provisions of a Massachusetts Rule of Civil Procedure that protects documents “prepared in anticipation of litigation … by or for [a] party’s representative (including his attorney, consultant, surety, indemnitor, insurer, or agent)” from wholesale disclosure in discovery, the hearing officer noted:

"This interpretation of work product protection in the context of BSEA proceedings serves the important policy goals underlying the provision; to exclude advocates could have a chilling effect on communication among parents, their experts, and advocates; and hamper advocates’ ability to communicate in writing with their clients and maintain records of their work."

The Ruling is careful to note that work product protection is by no means absolute.

The hearing officer stated that the doctrine does not protect communications that were not prepared in anticipation of litigation, such as, for example, communications around “exploring and securing an alternate placement” for the student.

Moreover, the hearing officer (tracking the language of the rule) explained, the protection may be set aside if the school district can prove that it has “substantial need for the materials to prepare its case and cannot, without undue hardship, obtain their substantial equivalent by other means.”

Importantly, she noted that even if a district can demonstrate a substantial need and undue hardship, such that discovery must go forward, disclosure will exclude the “mental impressions, conclusions, opinions, or legal theories of [the advocate] concerning the litigation.”

When, one might ask, is litigation “anticipated” in the context of an advocate’s work with parents in the special education process, thereby triggering the protection of the work product doctrine? We would argue for a liberal interpretation of the concept.

In most cases, when parents seek the assistance of an advocate, they do so because a serious disagreement has arisen with their district over their child’s needs and the services and programs that are in place or being proposed. In the interests of meeting students’ needs as quickly as possible, IDEA provides for an exceptionally short process if disagreements cannot be resolved informally. In that context, one could reasonably conclude that nearly every instance in which an advocate is engaged involves, at least to some degree, anticipation of litigation.

To carry out their tasks effectively and provide intelligent guidance, advocates must consider and advise parents about the various available dispute resolution procedures, including the due process hearing, and about the potential impact of every step the parents take on their eventual ability to carry the burden of proof at hearing.

Consideration of the legal standards that apply under IDEA, the critical importance of up-to-date credible and well-founded expert testimony, the timelines and other procedural pitfalls that apply to the actions of parents and their districts – these and other considerations are all inextricably tied to the workings of due process under IDEA.

It is difficult to imagine an advocate-parent relationship that does not, to some degree, involve discussion of these subjects. Thus, many if not most advocate-parent communications will be carried out “in anticipation of litigation.”

In a second area, this Ruling discusses the scope of a student’s protection against disclosure of records pertaining to his/her emotional health. We and other attorneys and advocates have frequently agonized with our clients over the potential impact on a student of having his/her communications with a therapist disclosed to others – and to an adverse party at that.

This Ruling indicates that once the student’s emotional health becomes an issue in a BSEA proceeding, the psychotherapist-patient privilege is waived. The hearing officer surrounded her order to produce psychiatric records with conditions strictly limiting who can see the records (only those whose review of the student’s medical history or mental health is necessary to the district’s defense) and requiring that any copies of the records be destroyed at the conclusion of a hearing.

This is an unfortunate “Catch-22” for parents and students who must raise issues about the student’s emotional and/or other medical needs as part of their claim at the BSEA.

For now, we can only advise that therapists, when generating and maintaining records, be constantly aware of the potential for disclosure notwithstanding the patient’s privilege; that they advise parents and students of the possibility of disclosure if/when the student’s health should become an issue in litigation of any kind; and, most critically, that they be well-prepared to work with the student around the emotional consequences the student may experience if and when the records must be disclosed to an adverse party.

We have posted this note quickly today in light of the importance of both key aspects of the Ruling for the practices of advocates and of therapists in IDEA due process. Each part of the Ruling holds the potential for more questions and arguments as parties wrestle with its ramifications. We are gratified to see the essential work of non-lawyer advocates and other non-lawyer consultants recognized as falling within the scope of the work product doctrine.

While we acknowledge the hearing officer’s rationale in her ruling on patient-therapist communications, we caution all concerned to pay sensitive attention to what is frequently a vulnerable therapeutic relationship and to limit any disclosures to the barest minimum that is consistent with the needs of the process.

Robert Crabtree serves of counsel in the Special Education & Disability Rights practice group at Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP in Boston, Massachusetts.

Friday, July 28, 2017

When Black Hair Violates the Dress Code

From nprEd
How learning happens.

By Kayla Lattimore
July 17, 2017

Raising teenage girls can be a tough job. Raising black teenage girls as white parents can be even tougher. Aaron and Colleen Cook knew that when they adopted their twin daughters, Mya and Deanna.

As spring came around this year, the girls, who just turned 16, told their parents they wanted to get braided hair extensions. Their parents happily obliged, wanting Mya and Deanna to feel closer to their black heritage.

But when the girls got to school, they were asked to step out of class. Both were given several infractions for violating the dress code. Mystic Valley Regional Charter School, north of Boston, bans hair extensions in its dress code, deeming them "distracting."

When administrators asked the girls to remove their braids, Mya and Deanna refused.

The next day, Colleen and Aaron Cook came to the school where, they say, they were told the girls' hair needed to be "fixed." The Cooks refused, telling administrators that there was nothing wrong with the hairstyle.

Mya and Deanna Cook, 16, with their parents, Aaron and Colleen Cook.
Courtesy of the Cook family.

As punishment, the girls were removed from their extracurricular activities, barred from prom and threatened with suspension if they did not change their hair.

According to Colleen Cook, administrators at Mystic Valley have routinely reprimanded black students for dress code violations involving hair.

Other black girls have been pulled out of class, she says, lined up, asked if they had hair extensions and given detention if they did.

Colleen remembers when one student, who wore her hair in its natural texture, was taken out of class and told that she would need to relax, or chemically straighten, her hair before returning to school the next day.

In defense of their daughters, the Cooks brought in a yearbook to show school leaders the many white female students with hair extensions and dyed hair.

But, the Cooks say, the administration didn't see that those students were in violation of the dress code, stating those hair alterations weren't as obvious.

NPR reached out to Mystic Valley Regional for an interview several times without a response.

The Cooks contacted the NAACP, Anti-Defamation League and ACLU to file a complaint against the school, calling the dress code discriminatory to students of color, particularly black females.

After much pressure, the school suspended enforcement of the dress code until the end of the year.

Noticing a Trend

In recent years, black girls have been sent home for wearing dreads, head wraps and even wearing their hair naturally.

In schools across the country, black student suspension rates are higher than their peers'. In charter schools, kindergarten through eighth grade, those rates are even higher.

Having a dress code is one thing, but denying an education for it defies logic.
-- Daniel J. Losen, director, Center for Civil Rights Remedies

In fact, Daniel J. Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies, found that at the highest-suspending charter schools in the nation, the majority of students were black.

Though databases for infractions vary from state to state, in a recent analysis, half of suspensions in charter schools were for minor nonviolent offenses, including dress code violations.

Specifically, Losen's research shows that in Massachusetts, the Cooks' home state, black students at charters lose 24 more days of instruction to suspension than do white students.

"Having a dress code is one thing, but denying an education for it defies logic," says Losen.

Zero Tolerance Leads to High Suspension Rates

Dorinda J. Carter Andrews, assistant dean of equity outreach initiatives at Michigan State University, says that black females are more likely to receive harsher discipline than their white and Latina counterparts.

Her research on zero tolerance policies and their outcomes shows that they enforce a marginalization of black girls in schools. Which can, in practice, criminalize their black identity.

"What does a headdress have to do with learning and success?" asks Carter Andrews.

She finds it strange that hair would even be part of a dress code. It's not a choice, but an aspect of one's body. Which raises a question: Is a zero tolerance policy for hair — where students can be suspended without warning — less about a dress code and more about a racial code?

What does a headdress have to do with learning and success?
-- Dorinda J. Carter Andrews, assistant dean of equity outreach at Michigan State University

In her research, Carter Andrews has found that this type of policing has a detrimental effect on black girls in schools and how their peers view them, further enforcing negative stereotypes.

Black girls are often seen as being loud or aggressive and are overly disciplined because of that stigma. Andrews finds that leads to low self-esteem and underperformance in school for these students.

Jamilia Blake, who looks at the "adultification" of black girls in schools, believes stereotypes of black adults are put on black children in schools, and black girls in particular.

Blake sees strict dress codes as a way of targeting certain students without using racial language. By using certain restrictions on hairstyles and dress, school officials are enforcing the policing of black youth.

Toward the end of the school year, the Cook twins, Mya and Deanna, were allowed to participate in their extracurricular activities. That was after much upset from friends and supporters and a word of warning from the Massachusetts attorney general to school leaders at Mystic Valley Regional Charter.

Meanwhile, the Cooks continue to advocate for their daughters as the dress code fight goes on. The school hasn't made any plans, publicly, to change the regulations around hair.

Colleen Cook wants people to know that they're fighting not just for their daughters but for the other black girls in the school who have felt victimized.

When our daughters walk with us, they have our white privilege. When they're not with us, they're black children.
-- Aaron Cook, father of Mya and Deanna Cook

Mystic Valley has put out a statement in defense of its dress code policy, stating that the restrictions on hair extensions exist so that the school can promote equity. Hair extensions — it reads — can be expensive.

The Cooks believe this experience has helped them realize the world their daughters have to face.

"When our daughters walk with us, they have our white privilege. When they're not with us, they're black children," says Aaron Cook.

Colleen agrees, adding, "I feel like the school is pushing us to raise them as white children, but that's not who they are or who they're going to be."

The Cooks value their children's black heritage and want them to be proud of themselves at home and at school. They'll continue to fight to make that happen.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Brain Trauma Scientists Turn Their Attention to Soccer

From Wired Magazine

By Eric Niiler
July 27, 2017

The mountain of evidence connecting professional football and long-term brain damage grew this week with publication of a new study that examined the brains of former NFL players.

Boston University scientists found 110 of the 111 post-mortem brains showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated hits to the head. Linemen had it the worst, while punters seemed to escape relatively unharmed.

Johnny Acosta of Costa Rica heads the ball against Kelyn Rowe of the
United States during the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup Semifinal at
AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on July 22, 2017.

This kind of brain damage and the NFL’s response—or lack thereof—has dogged the league for the past decade. Football has seen class action lawsuits, congressional hearings, and efforts to make the game safer by banning certain hits and designing new helmets.

But neurologists involved in this new study, as well as other experts, say another sport may rival football’s impact on the brain: soccer.

Soccer isn’t usually considered a contact sport, although gameplay hits can result in concussions. “Soccer has repetitive impacts, from player to player and players heading the ball,” says Boston University’s Ann McKee, an author of this week’s study of NFL players. “It doesn’t matter how you do it, just that you do it and do it repetitively.” And with 265 million players worldwide, soccer represents a potentially huge pool of head injury patients.

One US pro soccer team, DC United, lost six players to retirement over the past decade due to concussions, while another two players missed playing time this season with head injuries. In a recent lawsuit against the team and its coach, former DC United goalkeeper Charlie Horton said one of his teammates elbowed his head on purpose in 2016, giving him a concussion and ending his professional career.

And in 2015, the US Soccer Federation, the sport’s governing body, settled a proposed class action lawsuit by limiting heading by youth soccer players.

Lawsuits aren’t scientific evidence, but an increase indicates that players are concerned about how their sport responds to concussions and the possible long-term risk of brain disease. Case studies have shown that retired professional English and Brazilian soccer players with a history of concussions can later show signs of dementia; autopsies revealed CTE-riddled brains.

In April, BU researchers reported on the case of a former American high school soccer player who had 19 soccer-related concussions, a history of depression and mental health problems who died aged 24 of a drug overdose. An autopsy revealed that he also had CTE, according to a report in the journal Neurology.

Those case studies have limited scientific value, of course; to nail down the connection between soccer and brain damage, the sport will need bigger sample sizes. The big difference between soccer and football is the number of former NFL players and their families who have come forward asking for help from the medical community.

McKee’s group in Boston has set up a “brain bank” where families of ex-football players (pro and college athletes) who are worried about their mental state can donate their brains for research. So far they have received 425 brains; CTE has been found in 270 of them. That kind of focused research effort hasn’t yet been developed for soccer.

Even in the case of football-related brain injuries, there’s no absolute proof that concussions cause CTE. In fact, scientists say that it may be the less powerful “sub-concussive” hits that both football and soccer players receive all the time that could trigger the disease. But at New York’s Albert Einstein School of Medicine, neurologist Michael Lipton has been working to identify the trigger.

“In soccer, where you have people repeatedly hitting their head over time,” says Lipton, “the question is how much does it take to lead to pathology that rises to where there are functional effects.”

To answer that question, Lipton has been following a group of recreational soccer players in New York City for the past few years. About 400 active players participate in his Einstein Soccer Study: They come in to the lab to get a scan of their brain and some blood work, and then they are asked to perform brain games on a tablet to test their cognitive abilities. Lipton uses diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging, which allows him to map changes in the brain’s white matter.


In 2013, Lipton reported in the journal Neuroradiology that repeated heading the ball—even without getting a concussion—is associated with cognitive problems and physical changes to the structure of the brain. Players head the ball, on average, six to 12 times per game, trying to deflect balls that travel up to 50 miles per hour in recreational games. In practice, players head the ball up to 30 or more times in a row during drills.

Lipton’s study suggests that initial problems with memory began at 1,800 headers.

Now, that study only examined 37 players—a small sample that isn’t big enough to establish a clear-cut connection. But with a larger sample size of several hundred participants, Lipton is looking to identify some kind of biological change in the brain over time. “There is clearly something going on, but what it means for the long term requires more work,” he says.

Finding that tipping point—beyond which a professional or recreational player should probably retire or take a break from heading the ball—would be a huge relief for everyone who loves the game.

McKee notes that the only way to determine CTE is through an autopsy. But she and other medical researchers are hoping to find some kind of biomarker, a protein in blood or urine perhaps, that signals the beginning stages of CTE. That kind of information would give the player a yellow or red warning card that maybe it’s time to pick up checkers or croquet.

Until then, the only thing that can quell the damage is taking a break from repetitive hits—whether they’re from a defensive linebacker or a soccer ball to the head.

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.