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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

New ADHD Medication for Morning Relief

From Smart Kids with LD

August 19, 2018

With the start of school just around the corner, avoiding morning madness is on the minds of many parents—especially those whose kids have ADHD and struggle to get up, out, and on their way to school daily.

Relief may be in sight. According to an article on the Medscape Website, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new medication.

Jornay PM is formulated to be “taken in the evenings, instead of first thing in the morning to provide early-morning control of symptoms of ADHD.”

FDA approval was granted after two randomized trials showed that Jornay PM had a positive impact on ADHD symptoms in the morning and throughout the day. Together the studies evaluated 278 kids with ADHD, ages 6 to 12, some of whom were given Jornay PM while others were given a placebo.

In a press release from Ironshore, maker of the new medication, Randy Sallee, M.D. and the company’s chief medical officer, explained the benefits:

"Many parents of children with ADHD note that the early morning routine is often one of the most chaotic times of the day. The idea of dosing the medication the night before was our ‘moonshot’ solution to meeting this need. The approval of Jornay PM is a welcome treatment option for healthcare providers, patients, and their caregivers that may affect the way physicians think about ADHD treatment going forward."

Do Children Have a Right to Literacy? Attorneys are Testing That Question.

From The Washington Post

By Moriah Balingit
August 13, 2018

A vacant classroom at Southwestern High School in Detroit in 2015.

When Jamarria Hall strode into Osborn High in Detroit his freshman year, the signs of decay were everywhere: buckets in the hallways to catch leaking water, rotting ceiling tiles, vermin that crisscrossed classrooms.

In the neglected school, students never got textbooks to take home, and Hall and his classmates went long stretches — sometimes months — with substitute teachers who did little more than supervise students.

“It doesn’t seem like a high school,” said Hall, who graduated in 2017. “It seems like a state prison.”

Hall was part of a class of Detroit Public Schools students who sued state officials in federal court, arguing that the state had violated their constitutional right to learn to read by providing inadequate resources.

[Detroit superintendent: ‘This would never ever happen in any white suburban district in this country’]

A federal judge agreed this summer that the circumstances at Hall’s school shocked the conscience. But what is shocking, he concluded, is not necessarily illegal — even if some graduates of Detroit’s schools struggle to complete a job application.

“The conditions and outcomes of Plaintiffs’ schools, as alleged, are nothing short of devastating. When a child who could be taught to read goes untaught, the child suffers a lasting injury — and so does society,” Judge Stephen J. Murphy III wrote.

“But the Court is faced with a discrete question: does the Due Process Clause demand that a State affirmatively provide each child with a defined, minimum level of education by which the child can attain literacy?” he wrote. “The answer to the question is no.”

The case illustrated a conundrum that has vexed education advocates for decades: Neither the word “school” nor “education” appears in the Constitution, and federal courts have largely shied from establishing a special right for children to receive an adequate education.

That has posed formidable hurdles for those who turn to the courts for help when their school buildings are falling down, or their children are enduring long stretches in classrooms without real teachers, or even when they see evidence of discrimination.

Now, attorneys are trying a new tactic.

[Michigan legislature approves $617 million bailout package for Detroit schools]

They argue that the ability to read and write is key to unlocking other rights — voting, applying for jobs, writing letters to lawmakers — that federal courts have held sacred. An illiterate adult is unable to participate as a full citizen in a democratic republic, they argue.

“These children are being disenfranchised,” said Mark Rosenbaum of Public Counsel, a pro bono law firm that focuses on social justice issues and is representing the Detroit students. “Children are not receiving the basic skills to participate in a democracy.”

Hall can read, but despite graduating with the highest SAT score among his classmates and being one of Osborn High’s best students, he was rejected from his dream school — Florida A&M University — and had to take a remedial writing class at a community college.

The conditions Hall and his classmates faced were not confined to Osborn: In a Detroit elementary school, a lawsuit alleges, grade-schoolers had no English textbooks and no way to access a library.

Attorneys for the state of Michigan rejected the notion that literacy is a fundamental right and argued that the court had no authority to make it one.

“Although there are many important aspects of living in the United States, the mere fact that something is important does not mean that there is a constitutional right to it,” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette wrote in November 2016, when he asked the judge to dismiss the case. Schuette recently won the state Republican Party’s nomination for governor.

“For example, although it is certainly important for a person to have shelter, the Constitution does not create a right to governmental provision of adequate shelter,” Schuette said.

State officials also argued that the suit failed to trace the ills of the schools to their actions. Attorneys for the children “allege unfortunate conditions in the children’s schools, but they do not provide any relationship between the conditions of the schools and any race discrimination,” the attorney general wrote in a court filing in 2016.

The right to learn to read, attorneys for the students argued, is analogous to the right to marry. In court documents, they referenced Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark 2015 decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide and declared marriage to be a fundamental right.

Rosenbaum also filed suit in California, accusing the state of failing to implement recommendations that came out of a report on literacy.

The suit, which includes young plaintiffs from three schools in Inglewood, Los Angeles and Stockton, alleges that resource-deprived schools did little or nothing when children fell short of state standards.

One charter school — Children of Promise Preparatory Academy in Inglewood — had entire grade levels in which no students were rated proficient on state exams. A judge rejected the state’s efforts to dismiss the lawsuit last month.

One woman, who sent her two daughters to the academy, said both brought home good grades and seemed to be doing well. But both nearly failed state reading exams. No intervention was provided to either girl.

“My daughter was passing her little spelling tests most of the time, but I didn’t know it was that bad, I just didn’t know,” said the mother, who is identified in the lawsuit by a pseudonym. Attorneys used pseudonyms for the children and their parents to protect the privacy of academic records.

The children suing in the Michigan and California cases attended schools that were overwhelmingly poor, black and Latino. For Rosenbaum, poor test scores are evidence that the state is attempting to further “subordinate” communities that already have the odds stacked against them.

The link attorneys makes between literacy and participation in democracy is hardly new. In many slaveholding Southern states, it was once illegal to teach enslaved people to read, and many states administered literacy tests to bar illiterate men — black or white — from the polls.

“This idea that we needed a literate, educated electorate dates back to before the Constitution,” said Derek W. Black, a University of South Carolina law professor. Black recently wrote a law journal article tracing the historical roots of the association between public education and the right to vote.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, Congress required Southern states seeking readmission to the Union to write new state constitutions that guaranteed suffrage for black men and the provision of public education for all.

Black argues that Congress believed the two — the right to vote and the right to a public education — were inextricably bound. After all, how could a man — free or not — make informed decisions about his ­government if he could not read the ballot? “Opening doors for everyone is not enough,” he said. “You have to prepare them with the government knowledge and the critical literacy that would allow them to effectively vote.”

While no court has recognized access to literacy as a right, many state courts have recognized that their state constitutions enshrine a child’s right to some level of education and some have tackled unequal funding. But even when judges have ruled that schools are failing to meet their obligations under state constitutions, they have not always been able to deliver relief for students.

State legislatures have sometimes ignored court edicts to equalize or increase education funding, or complied halfheartedly.

Washington state’s Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that lawmakers were violating the state constitution by failing to provide enough money to schools. Lawmakers repeatedly crafted plans that the court found insufficient. In 2015, the court began fining the state $100,000 a day — money that was largely directed to education — for being in contempt.

The lawsuit ended in June — after billions had been invested in schools.

Don't Divert Taxpayer Money to Vouchers. It Does Much More Good at Public Schools.

From USA Today

By Derek W. Black
August 16, 2018

Ideologues are peddling a myth that private school vouchers will improve education. To really help students, vote to keep money in public schools.

Political leaders are asking the nation to double down on the bet that expanding school vouchers will improve educational outcomes. Arizona — ground zero in the Koch network's efforts to reshape education — is set to decide a voucher referendum this fall.

A dozen other state legislatures have passed or are considering their own voucher expansions. And the Trump administration is cheering them on. It created a private school loophole in last year’s tax reform and is now asking Congress for new money to expand school choice further

These pushes rest on a false premise — that there is a private school advantage.

Private schools’ higher average test scores drive this myth. The problem is that average test scores alone do not tell us anything worth knowing. Comparing the average scores of private and public schools is comparing apples to oranges.

Public and private schools enroll students from very different backgrounds. Most important, more than half of public school students are low-income. Only about one in four private school students is low-income.

Private Schools Don't Add Value

These numbers are all but destiny for a school’s overall achievement. Low-income students face a number of personal obstacles that depress their performance — from housing instability and hunger to a lack of academic support outside school. These challenges follow low-income children no matter what school they attend.

An overall school’s achievement, then, is largely dictated by the percentage of low- and middle-income students it enrolls, not whether it is public or private. But simply enrolling a larger percentage of middle-income students doesn’t mean that one school is better than another.

The question to ask is whether the average poor student performs better in private school than in public school. That is what we call “value-added” and something worthy of public investment. But the data say there is not any value-added in private school.

University of Virginia researchers recently followed a cohort of children from birth to age 15, as they moved in and out of private and public schools.

Once they compared apples to apples — “simply controlling for the socio-demographic characteristics” — the so-called private school advantage disappearedThey could not find any “evidence to suggest that low-income children or children enrolled in urban schools benefited more from private school enrollment.” 

Another team of researchers examined every public and private school in the nation. They found that after controlling for demographics, public schools actually slightly outperform private schools.

Federal and state leaders either have their heads in the sand or are trying to dupe the public. They have been pushing for more vouchers for private schools and slamming public schools for the past decade. Over that time, 29 states have significantly reduced public education spending — some by as much as 37 percent.

Yet, during this same period, states like Florida and Indiana substantially increased the amount they would spend per voucher and quadrupled the size of their programs.

At the federal level, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says the public school model is flawed and wants to radically expand charters and vouchers. The president’s proposed 2019 budget would cut or eliminate several public school programs, including a grant program for teachers. It would use that money for $1 billion in new grants for private and public school choice programs.

Public School Funding Makes a Difference

The trouble is that public school funding levels actually matter a lot in how students perform. Examining decades of national data, a recent study found that a 20 percent increase in public school funding corresponds with low-income students completing nearly a year of additional education — enough to drastically reduce achievement gaps and adulthood poverty.

A follow-up study focused on the past decade of funding cuts and found that they depressed student achievement.

Spending money on vouchers rather than public schools is not based on facts or good faith efforts to improve outcomes for needy students. It is an ideological position about the role of government. The new pejorative term “government schools” and the fact that voucher programs are increasingly directed at middle-income students show that the current push isn’t about honest reform.

People send their kids to private school for a variety of reasons that make sense for them as individuals — religion, status, unique opportunities and personal flexibility. But when it comes to public policy, government can do nothing better right now for students than to fully fund public schools.

Derek W. Black is a law professor at the University of South Carolina. Follow him on Twitter: @DerekWBlack

Monday, August 20, 2018

Charter Schools and Labor Market Outcomes

From Harvard University

By Roland G. "Dobbie" Fryer, Jr.
Henry Lee Professor of Economics

January 9, 2018



We estimate the impact of charter schools on early-life labor market outcomes using administrative data from Texas. We find that, at the mean, charter schools have no impact on test scores and a negative impact on earnings.

No Excuses charter schools increase test scores and four-year college enrollment, but have a small and statistically insignificant impact on earnings, while other types of charter schools decrease test scores, four-year college enrollment, and earnings.

Moving to school-level estimates, we find that charter schools that decrease test scores also tend to decrease earnings, while charter schools that increase test scores have no discernible impact on earnings.

In contrast, high school graduation effects are predictive of earnings effects throughout the distribution of school quality. The paper concludes with a speculative discussion of what might explain our set of facts.


Roland G. Fryer, Jr. is the Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University and faculty director of the Education Innovation Laboratory (EdLabs). Fryer's research combines economic theory, empirical evidence, and randomized experiments to help design more effective government policies. His work on education, inequality, and race has been widely cited in media outlets and Congressional testimony.

Professor Fryer was awarded a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship and the John Bates Clark Medal -- given by the American Economic Association to the best American Economist under age 40.

Among other honors, he is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a recipient of the Calvó-Armengol Prize and the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. At age 30, he became the youngest African-American to receive tenure at Harvard.

Signs of Anxiety in Infancy May Foreshadow Autism

From Spectrum News

By Nicholette Zeliadt
August 6, 2018

Fearfulness and shyness in babies and toddlers predict features of autism at age 7, according to a new study (1). But early problems with impulse control and hyperactivity do not augur autism features.

The findings suggest that autism and anxiety have similar roots in the brain, but autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) do not, says lead investigator Tony Charman, chair of clinical child psychology at King’s College London.

“It’s not saying there’s no association between autism and ADHD, but the developmental origins are just less similar than those for autism and anxiety,” Charman says.

Autism often coincides with anxiety and ADHD: Up to about 80 percent of people with autism also meet the criteria for ADHD or anxiety. And the three conditions tend to run together in families, suggesting they share genetic roots.

Previous studies have explored behavioral predictors of each of these conditions, but few have examined all three simultaneously.

“I think this is a contribution moving us in a direction that we should keep going in, where we’re looking at the way early symptoms interact with each other to predict a variety of outcomes, rather than looking at one little snapshot,” says Meghan Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California, Davis MIND Institute, who was not involved in the work.

Distinguishing Features

Charman and his colleagues tracked the temperament and behaviors of 104 children from about 7 months to 7 years of age. Roughly half of the children are the younger siblings of autistic children. These so-called ‘baby sibs’ are at heightened risk of autism and other conditions, including ADHD and anxiety.

All of the children are enrolled in the British Autism Study of Infant Siblings, a long-term study in the United Kingdom.

Parents completed questionnaires about their children’s behavior and temperament when the children were 7, 14 and 24 months old. And when the children were roughly 7 years old, their parents filled out checklists for autism, ADHD and anxiety traits.

The researchers also assessed the 7-year-olds for autism; 15 of 42 baby sibs and none of 37 controls they assessed met autism criteria. (Parents did not always return questionnaires, and some skipped the age 7 assessments.)

Studies of children without autism show that fearfulness and shyness early in life predict anxiety later in life; and hyperactivity, inattention and poor impulse control predict ADHD.

Charman and his colleagues similarly found that young children with high activity levels and poor inhibitory control have more ADHD features at age 7 than those who are calm and controlled. But these behaviors do not track with autism traits or diagnosis; they also do not predict anxiety.

Still, the findings may help clinicians distinguish autism from ADHD early on.

“Here we show we can separate these disorders, and it seems like they have separable neurocognitive atypicalities from the first year of life,” says Elizabeth Shephard, who worked on the study as a postdoctoral fellow at King’s College London. She is now a visiting researcher at the University of São Paolo’s Institute of Psychiatry in Brazil.

Similar Routes

The researchers found that young children who tend to be fearful and shy have more anxiety and more autism traits at age 7 than do other children.

“This could indicate that anxiety and autism develop from similar routes in infancy,” Shephard says. The results appeared 2 July in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

In line with this idea, the link to anxiety weakened when the researchers controlled for autism traits or diagnosis.

Still, Shephard and others say this result could also point to a possible measurement error: Some of the questions used to assess fear and shyness in infancy may also be picking up autism traits. Conversely, the questionnaire for autism traits may also pick up anxiety2.

“There’s a big challenge in the field right now to measure autism separately from anxiety,” says Mikle South, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, who was not involved in the study. “We are lacking adequate neuroimaging and physiological techniques for doing this, and our questionnaires don’t do a good job, either.”

Charman says he and his colleagues are exploring the overlap between autism, anxiety and ADHD in a new cohort of 200 babies, about half of whom are baby sibs. In addition to parent reports, the researchers are collecting more objective data, including heart rate, brain activity and eye-tracking measures.

  1. Shephard E. et al. J. Child Psychol. Psychiatry Epub ahead of print (2018) PubMed
  2. South M. et al. Autism Res. 10, 1215-1220 (2017) PubMed

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Report: Most Elementary, Special Ed Teachers Not Required to Show They Can Teach Reading

From Education Dive

By Linda Jacobson
August 9, 2018

Dive Brief
  • Most states are not adequately preparing elementary and special education teachers to teach reading, asserts a new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality. The report shows that while most states have standards for teacher education programs that include reading instruction, just 11 require teachers in both areas to demonstrate their knowledge on a licensing test.
  • While some states require such exams for elementary school teachers, they don’t always do the same for special education teachers — “a perplexing stance given that 80% of all students are assigned to special education because of their struggle to read,” according to a press release on the report.
  • The organization recommends that all states require teacher candidates to pass a test rooted in what research shows about learning how to read. Even if a test covers multiple subject areas, it should include a “subscore” of reading knowledge, they add.

Dive Insight

The report comes at a time when courts are being asked to consider whether children have a constitutional right to literacy. Learning to read encompasses the five skills of phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

But to help students access the higher-level fiction and nonfiction texts that meet Common Core standards, experts also recommend that teachers know how to teach advanced literacy skills, such as learning content through reading — often referred to as “reading to learn.”

The NCTQ report echoes earlier findings from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, which examined how much attention teacher education programs give to reading instruction and how well graduates of those programs are demonstrating that knowledge.

The study found that pre-service teachers reported that their preparation programs covered the components of reading instruction more than a little but less than a moderate amount.

On a test of their own knowledge, pre-service teachers answered 57% of the questions correctly.

The report’s findings also suggest that elementary principals — especially in states that don’t require new teachers to pass tests of their knowledge of reading instruction — should find out how these fundamental skills are addressed in the colleges and universities where they are recruiting new teachers.

They can also pair beginning teachers with faculty members on their staff who have had success teaching reading, and provide online and in-person professional development in reading strategies for students more likely to struggle with reading.

Regular and special education teachers can also share their knowledge with each other since students are now more likely to be educated in regular classrooms with support.

Recommended Reading

When Higher Functioning Follows Form: Special-Needs Students Flourish in Sensory-Designed Schools

From The 74 Million

By Beth Hawkins
August 15, 2018

A serpentine hallway with brightly colored seating areas at
Pankalo Education Center outside St. Paul, Minnesota

Like other superintendents throughout the country, Connie Hayes has spent recent years puzzling over two related trends: Students in her district’s schools require special education services at younger and younger ages, and their needs are increasingly complex.

Along with the challenges presented by autism, cognitive disabilities, and behavioral disorders, even very young students in Hayes’s classrooms were coming to school with unmet mental health issues. A rise in the amount of physical aggression meant more staff injuries.

“What we were starting to notice is that a traditionally designed facility was making it hard to serve these students well,” says Hayes. “Those long hallways with classrooms on either side — staff would move students out of the classroom to try to de-escalate things. If they weren’t successful, then it would affect other classrooms.”

What, she asked her staff, would a school look like if they could get rid of the environmental factors that compounded students’ frustrations and made it tough for the adults to head off the resulting explosions?

As it turned out, educators at Minnesota’s Northeast Metro Intermediate School District 916 had volumes to say on that topic. A co-op of suburban school districts located outside St. Paul, 916 exists to offer services that are too specific or intensive for member districts to provide in a cost-effective manner on their own.

Among the services 916 and the state’s other co-op districts provide are programs for students whose disabilities are unusual or profound, or require interventions that are too intensive for most districts.

Educators had thoughts on everything from those long hallways to the sensory overload that even the smallest features of most school buildings — such as the humming, flickering, and glare of industrial light fixtures — can cause.

When classes start September 4, the district will welcome students to the new Quora High School, which has been designed, down to the tactile quality of the flooring, to accommodate challenges most people would never imagine. Located in the city of Little Canada, Quora will serve 300 students in grades 5 to 12, most of them with special needs.

The district also has two other schools: the year-old Pankalo Education Center, and Karner Blue, which opened in 2014. Together, the two serve up to 300 students in kindergarten to eighth grade.

As word has gotten out, the schools have hosted a parade of visitors from districts and social service agencies near and far. With the first school now three years old, district leaders are able to share data showing a dramatic drop in disruptive behavior and a promising increase in academic success.

“There’s no question you’re going to have much higher success rates in those settings,” says Cathy Purple Cherry, an architect based in Annapolis, Maryland, who consults on the construction of special education facilities and has an adult son with autism. “With that success, you’re going to experience growth.”


Focus Shifts from Behavior to Learning

Schools like Quora, Pankalo, and Karner Blue are on the cutting edge of what architects are calling special-needs environmental design. In the decades since U.S. law began requiring accommodations in public facilities for people with disabilities, universal design — the practice of making sure structures and public spaces can be accessed by all — has become increasingly sophisticated.

Still, buildings that take into account sensory challenges and environmental impacts on behavior are relatively rare. Many of the features on display in the Minnesota schools, for example, are borrowed from behavioral or mental health facilities — another sector where designers are asked to combine extra security with calming features.

In Dorchester, Massachusetts, Codman Academy Public Charter School was built with a trauma-informed design. Many students there are trauma survivors who can focus best when they can see as far as possible. Lockers and stairwell doors have windows, for example, so students don’t have to stress over what’s on the other side.


Located near Salt Lake City, Utah, the Hartvigsen Special Needs School features a range of accommodations for students with physical and cognitive disabilities. The facility is arranged so foot traffic brings kids from the two traditional schools on either side into Hartvigsen’s — and its students’ — orbit.

The initial impetus for 916’s construction boom was to reduce the cost of providing unique services by transporting students to stand-alone schools staffed by experts, rather than having staff travel from building to building. But early outcomes from Karner Blue suggest that the unusual approach has paid other dividends.

“Once we removed the facility as instigator, so to speak, we were able to dive in and make great changes to our programs.”
— Connie Hayes, Minnesota schools superintendent

The number of elementary special-education pupils enrolled in 916 schools more than doubled between 2013 and 2016 while staff injuries remained flat, according to district data. The number of times staff had to restrain students — a controversial and potentially dangerous practice — fell by more than half, from 720 to 344, district records show. (The state has since changed the way restraints are tabulated.)

And as the amount of time staff spends managing behavior has fallen, Hayes says, a happy problem has arisen: Students are more engaged, sparking a need for teachers to plan more challenging lessons. The number of students with disabilities mastering academic content is up, with Karner Blue students outperforming 916 students overall significantly.

In 2017, 27 percent of Karner Blue students were reading at grade level, versus 22 percent of special education students districtwide. More than 31 percent were on track in math, versus 18 percent. (Pankalo is too new to show up in state performance data.)

“Once we removed the facility as instigator, so to speak, we were able to dive in and make great changes to our programs,” says Hayes.

“Right away, we had teachers expressing how surprised they were that for the first time in their careers they were able to get through lessons,” adds Val Rae Boe, Karner Blue principal. “We had a parent start crying in a [special-ed planning] meeting that their student was writing their name — something they never thought they’d see.”

When Karner Blue opened, district leaders feared there would be a rush of families trying to get their children into the school, which accepts only students whose needs are too profound to be met at their home schools.

Sarah and Kyle Ludwig advocated to get their son Landon into Karner Blue when it opened. Landon attended kindergarten at his neighborhood school but struggled to stay in the classroom. Landon was nonverbal, so it was difficult to anticipate his needs.

“It took 30 minutes to get him into the room in the morning because he was so overwhelmed with all the students coming in and out and the noise,” says Sarah Ludwig. “In kindergarten, he didn’t do math or reading. Basically, he wasn’t participating.”

After three years at Karner Blue, Landon was reading, doing math, and, most gratifying to his parents, holding conversations. “His communication over the last year has just blossomed,” says his mom. “We’ve started to see some of his personality, which is really a gift. When you have a child who is nonverbal, you don’t get to hear what he likes and doesn’t like.”

Among the things Landon likes are working in the garage with his father, visiting the cabin his grandparents are building, and practicing tasks like doing laundry in the school’s Life Lab. When he needs to calm himself, Landon uses one of Karner Blue’s sensory rooms, where he can control the lights and other stimuli.

From Teacher Wish Lists Comes a School

The facilities’ unique design is the result of an organic process. District leaders asked Kraus-Anderson, a commercial contractor with a long track record in school construction, to work with BWBR, an architectural firm with experience designing behavioral and mental health facilities.

The district’s teachers then did exactly what Hayes had hoped: They gave the designers and builders their extensive wish lists, ranging from lighting that doesn’t flicker, hum, or cast a harsh glare to flooring that’s more comfortable for kids who need to work while sitting or lying on the ground.

Pie-shaped wedges for seating and a playful blue dog outside classrooms
at Pankalo Education Center (N,E. Metro Intermediate School District 916)

Sensory stimulation is minimal, with soothing colors and as few right angles as possible. Windows are located either high up on walls or near the floor so that whatever is going on outside doesn’t distract. HVAC and plumbing are buried deep within walls or under the floor so noise and vibrations can’t be perceived.

Each room has its own climate controls, and radiant heat extends a few feet into each room under the floor to ease temperature fluctuations.

Hallways are 16 feet wide — twice as wide as a typical school hallway — and laid out in serpentine configurations for several reasons. A student pulled into the hall to calm down can be supported without disrupting passersby, for example.

The arrangement also eliminates sight lines to exits, neutralizing a visual invitation to bolt for the doors. Some children on the autism spectrum are prone to running away, sometimes with tragic results. Doors at 916’s schools have to open in the event of a fire or other emergency, but not putting windows in them and putting several sets of doors between common areas and the outside also helps.

Like the other common areas, the halls have rubberized flooring and wainscoting, which is both attractive and strategically positioned to protect walls from kicking.

The proliferation of materials that are durable and available in soothing colors and finishes has made it easier — and more affordable — to address the unexpected issues on 916 teachers’ wish lists, says Jon Kuenstling, the Kraus-Anderson project manager who oversaw construction of the schools.

Karner Blue cost $19 million to build. Pankalo’s price tag was $24 million, while the cost of converting the high school was $42 million. Almost all the funding comes from tax levies in 916 member districts.

The contractor was subsequently hired by another Minnesota co-op, Intermediate District 287, to renovate and expand a school northwest of Minneapolis. Kuenstling says he and his colleagues have drawn on lessons learned building the first schools.

For example, most people love mullions, solid dividers that break one large window up into a more decorative pattern of glass panes. The effect is lovely, Kuenstling told 287 when he first saw the plans, but many students will see a ladder begging to be climbed. He recommended eliminating them or rounding off the material in a way that makes a foot- or hand-hold impossible.

When Utah’s Granite School District got federal economic stimulus dollars several years ago to replace its special-needs school, it consulted with Annapolis architect Purple Cherry. The result, Hartvigsen, shares many features with 916’s buildings, including natural light, wide halls, and as few 90-degree angles as possible.

Hartvigsen installed rubberized floors, too, but to cut down on sound traveling.

“We do have students who like to tell us how it is,” says special-education director Noelle Converse. “But we no longer have the floor and other reverberations contributing.”

The school is able to store wheelchairs and other large equipment used by its students in spacious compartments in the cafeteria, eliminating the institutional feel that pervaded the old school.

Demand Bigger than the Space

All students, regardless of their level of functioning or communication, do better when they have a sense of mastery, says Purple Cherry. “They have the same basic, fundamental emotional needs all of us have,” she says. “Our children are much more successful, which leads to more confidence.”

Fun and futuristic playground equipment outside Pankalo Education Center
(Northeast Metro Intermediate School District 916)

Ideally, that confidence will allow students to flourish in a less structured mainstream classroom — the kind that federal disability law says they have a right to participate in as much of the time as possible.

And so there is an irony to District 916’s success. Karner Blue’s students have been able to learn the skills that enable them to return to their home schools much more quickly than in the past. The number of students transferring out has risen steadily, from nine in fiscal year 2015 to 21 in 2018.

Yet demand for placement in the specialized facilities has far outpaced space. So 916 teachers and other special-ed staff are still traveling to area schools, though now often it is to dispense advice on smoothing schools’ harsh sensory challenges.

“We are working to build a team to intervene; we call it a consultative team,” says Hayes. “When we have a young person whose needs are escalating, we can go out and observe and give strategies. It’s a wildly popular service model that we’re hoping to expand.”

Aware that centralized resources are rare when it comes to creating a school environment that eliminates sensory triggers, Hayes has begun investigating the possibility of hosting a conference sometime in the next couple of years to share the school design and its unexpected benefits on a bigger scale.

And in the meantime, of course, she and her staff continue to entertain visitors. Watching success beget success has been amazing, she said.

“It brings joy to the work we do.”

Saturday, August 18, 2018

State to Appeal Decision to Allow Shock Therapy

From the Quincy (MA) Patriot Ledger

By Chris Triunfo
July 24, 2018

BOSTON – The newest chapter of a 30-year legal battle in Massachusetts started in state Attorney General Maura Healey’s office late last week.

Healey’s office began the process of appealing a judge’s findings that allow the continued use of “aversive” therapies by the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC), a residential facility in Canton.

In a statement to the News Service, the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services confirmed that it had “asked the attorney general’s office to file an appeal of the probate court’s decision regarding the Judge Rotenberg Center.”

“Aversive” therapies are meant to deter any sort of violent outburst from an intellectually or developmentally disabled student. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the JRC is currently one of the only schools in the nation that continues to put the therapies into practice. One of them involves triggering electric shocks to the skin.

The JRC is the only school that still applies this particular kind of method.

The practice has been a topic of debate since 1987, when the JRC was given a “consent decree” allowing it to continue the practice of shock therapy. The school has since been condemned and investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, and currently, the FDA.

Months after video of an 18-year-old student receiving dozens of electric skin shocks surfaced in 2013, Governor Deval Patrick tried to put a stop to the practice and asked the court to vacate the decree. In 2015 and 2016, Governor Charlie Baker’s Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders reiterated a desire to end the therapy.

In June, Judge Katherine Field of the Bristol County Probate and Family Court ruled in the center’s favor. The deliberation took years, following a 44-day evidentiary hearing that ended in October of 2016.

”(The state) failed to demonstrate that there is now a professional consensus that the Level III aversive treatment used at JRC does not conform to the accepted standard of care for treating individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Field wrote in her June 20 ruling.

Now, through the attorney general’s office, Sudders has decided to appeal the decision. Healey’s office declined to comment on what arguments they will advance in their brief. Given the case’s long history, the appeal is likely to take shape after an extended period of time.

In 2011, lawmakers on Beacon Hill considered a proposal banning the use of skin shock therapy. Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, currently the chairman of House Ways and Means, defended the use of the therapies, speaking at a committee hearing about his nephew Brandon, who has a mental disability and lives at the JRC.

Sanchez said that at 12 years old, Brandon was moved to the Judge Rotenberg Center, where he was one of the first children to receive aversive therapy. According to Sanchez, the electric shocks have kept his nephew alive.

“When he starts to ruminate, meaning when you vomit into your mouth and then you chew and then you swallow and chew and vomit again, the application is given and it stops him from doing it, it’s as simple as that,” Sanchez said in 2011.

The JRC has consistently defended the shocks as part of a rewards system, getting students who are difficult to work with to stop harming themselves or others. Parents who have children at the school also hail the therapies.

In a statement this week, the JRC said, “We are confident that the Court made the correct decision based on the expert and family testimony and other evidence presented to it and we are certain the Court’s decision will be affirmed.”

The Massachusetts decision may not matter if the FDA acts on its 2016 proposal to ban the therapy at JRC. The FDA said it’s still reviewing comments on the proposed ban.

Addressing Mental Health Issues Critical to Boosting Academic Success

From Education Dive

By Autumn A. Arnett
August 8, 2018

It is estimated that 13% to 20% of children living in the United States have experienced a mental health disorder in the last year. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, one in five adolescents between 13 and 18 years old has or will have a serious mental illness, and suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth aged 10 to 24.

However, there is a shortage of mental health professionals nationwide, and children in rural areas are most impacted — 65% of non-metropolitan counties don’t have a psychiatrist and 47% don’t have a psychologist.

At the same time, many students of color in urban areas are often concentrated in high-poverty areas of cities otherwise thought of as booming metropolises. These students often have a higher need for mental health services because of the things they experience in their daily lives, but often cannot access these professionals because of the high cost of treatment. 

A nationwide shortage of school psychologists and counselors disproportionately affects these students as well, as they often attend more crowded, under-resourced schools, though they have the greatest need.

All of these factors contribute to what is typically an eight to 10-year gap between the onset of mental illness and treatment for children and youth, and nearly 80% of students who need mental health treatment in this country don’t get it because school staff have much-higher-than-recommended caseloads.

Partnerships between K-12 Schools and Higher Education

Some districts and universities are working to train staff to identify and, in some cases, assist students with mental illness on campus. Teachers21, a nonprofit subsidiary of William James College, a graduate college of psychology in Newton, Massachusetts, is working with classroom, school and district leaders and other school staff to build mental health treatment into their pedagogy.

Trauma-informed teaching has become a popular concept, feeding into the idea of restorative justice, which seeks to take into consideration all of the things a student experiences before he comes to school each day and anticipate how those factors might impact a student’s preparedness or ability to learn.

(This is most profoundly illustrated in the viral poem, Cause I ain’t got a pencil.”)

“Students at an increasingly young age have volatile behaviors, and they are acting out aggressively and frequently often — as young as kindergarten. [Students are displaying] very aggressive, very disruptive, very challenging behavior,” said Teacher21’s Jennifer Antonucci, who noted this is especially true for students “who have experienced trauma at home, or living in places where they’re continually exposed to trauma.”

Most of these efforts — and a focus on social-emotional learning in general — are concentrated in elementary schools, and by the time a student reaches middle school, the emphasis begins to fizzle out.

And, by the time a student gets onto a college campus, efforts are all but non-existent, said Williams James President Nicholas Covino, who is a practicing psychologist.

“Very few high schools have programs with social-emotional learning,” said Covino in a recent telephone conversation, “but we don’t have any of that at the college level.”

Many colleges have have counseling centers, but, Covino said, a lot of counseling centers have limits. "Then they make a referral outside, and that program [has a shortage of] providers,” he said, emphasizing that because “there’s ample evidence” that mental health challenges extend well into one’s 20s, prioritizing social-emotional learning and mental health interventions “cannot be about money and funding and funds; it really has to be in place as curriculum, and it has to extend into college and probably into graduate school.”

But for as much as trauma-informed teaching does for trying to encourage educators to be more considerate of students’ circumstances, it still does not address serious mental health challenges learners may face as a result of that trauma.

Antonucci, who worked as a school administrator before joining Teachers21, said “In the last several years, the dramatic need for assistance everywhere, and certainly in the school systems, around mental health and behavioral health has grown increasingly year after year.”

She said the key is to teach educators to “be as interactive and proactive as possible but have the resources in place to move them forward and keep them safely and productively moving through school,” realizing there’s “a whole system of need — the kids who aren’t acting out are also impacted, and they themselves also deserve to keep learning and not be impacted by a teacher who is in over their head.”

Other Challenges, Too

There’s also a need to recognize that the challenges extend beyond what we traditionally see as being the profile for a student to be at risk for mental health issues, Covino said.

“We’re very familiar with the challenges of adolescents as they come into adulthood, but a fourth grader has cognitive challenges … education has to address these things,” he said, adding that when these issues are addressed, academics, including test performance, improves, and teacher retention goes up.

Covino calls a focus on social-emotional learning “preventive mental health,” but said he is still working on finding the answer to meeting students’ needs, particularly in college.

“We typically in schools still focus on the three R’s” — reading, writing and arithmetic — “and we ignore the fourth ‘R’ of relationships,” he said. “We need to be very concerned about helping young people to acquire the skills to manage life successfully. When we do that, they excel in school, they have the ability to concentrate on their work better, they have the ability to experience fulfilling relationships — all of that is [the purpose of] education.”