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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Empowering Kids in an Anxious World

From nprEd
How learning happens.

By Cory Turner
July 18, 2018

"To build self-control, we need to stop controlling children."

Rates of anxiety and depression among teens in the U.S. have been rising for years. According to one study, nearly one in three adolescents (ages 13-18) now meets the criteria for an anxiety disorder, and in the latest results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 32 percent of teens reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.

And there's more bad news, grown-ups: The authors of two new parenting books believe you're part of the problem.

"Kids are play-deprived nowadays," says Katherine Reynolds Lewis, a journalist, parent, parent-educator and the author of one of those two new books, The Good News About Bad Behavior. And by "play" she means play without screens or adults keeping watch.

"Two or three decades ago, children were roaming neighborhoods in mixed-age groups, playing pretty unsupervised," Lewis says. And this kind of parent-free play helped them develop important skills they'd use for the rest of their lives. "They were able to resolve disputes. They planned their time. They managed their games. They had a lot of autonomy, which also feeds self-esteem and mental health."

These days, though, free play is on the decline, Lewis says, and so are the social and emotional skills that come with it. Part of the problem, according to Lewis, is parents who worry that unsupervised play is just too risky. But the risk is part of the point — for kids "to have falls and scrapes and tumbles and discover that they're okay. They can survive being hurt."

In many families, Lewis says, play has also been crowded out by parents' increased focus on schoolwork.

William Stixrud is not one of those parents.

"When my kids were in elementary school, I said, 'You know, I'm happy to look at your report card, but I don't care that much. I care much more that you work hard to develop yourself,'" says Stixrud, a neuropsychologist and co-author of the other new parenting book, The Self-Driven Child.

He says academics are important, but that, in most cases, kids should be in the driver's seat, learning to manage their work, their time and, ideally, being able to pursue their own interests. That freedom, Stixrud says, helps them develop internal motivation in a way that rewards and grades just can't.

Stixrud's daughter, Jora LaFontaine, who now has a Ph.D. in economics, says she still remembers first grade, when she brought a paper home from school. Her parents were supposed to sign it every day, proving she'd read for fifteen minutes.

The first day, though, Jora says her father looked at it, laughed, "signed every single line on it and said that he did not want to turn reading into homework or a chore."

When she was an A student in high school, Jora attended a talk her dad gave about why parents shouldn't focus on grades. William Stixrud remembers his daughter pushing back that night in the car.

"Driving home she said, 'You know, I liked the lecture, but I don't really believe that you believe that stuff about the grades," Stixrud remembers.

"Most people I tell this to laugh," Jora says, laughing herself. "So, I said to my dad, 'If you don't get [good] grades, you're not gonna get into college. Or at least you won't get into a good college."

... and if you don't get into a good college, you won't get a good job ...

"So my dad said, 'I will give you a hundred dollars if you're willing to get a C in one of your classes,'" Jora says.

A hundred dollars.

Stixrud says, his daughter already took school seriously, and he wanted her to understand that "one thing that seems like a disaster is just not that big a deal."

Jora didn't take her father up on his offer, but she says it meant a lot, knowing that the only person really pushing her to succeed ... was her. In that way, she embodies the spirit of both books' message to parents:

As Lewis writes, "to build self-control, we need to stop controlling children."

No, Private Schools Aren’t Better at Educating Kids than Public Schools. Why This New Study Matters.

From The Washington Post's Education Blog
"The Answer Sheet"

By Valerie Strauss
July 26, 2018

"When you first look, the kids who go to private schools are far and away outperforming public school kids. (But) as soon as you control for family income and parents’ education level, that difference is eliminated completely.”

Despite evidence showing otherwise, it remains conventional wisdom in many parts of the education world that private schools do a better job of educating students, with superior standardized test scores and outcomes. It is one of the claims that some supporters of school choice make in arguing that the public should pay for private school education.

The only problem? It isn’t true, a new study confirms.

University of Virginia researchers who looked at data from more than 1,000 students found that all of the advantages supposedly conferred by private education evaporate when socio-demographic characteristics are factored in. There was also no evidence found to suggest that low-income children or children enrolled in urban schools benefit more from private school enrollment.

The results confirm what earlier research found but are especially important amid a movement to privatize public education — encouraged by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — based in part on the faulty assumption that public schools are inferior to private ones.

DeVos has called traditional public schools a “dead end” and long supported the expansion of voucher and similar programs that use public money for private and religious school education.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 27 states and the District of Columbia have policies allowing public money to be used for private education through school vouchers, scholarship tax credits and education savings grants.

[There is a movement to privatize public education in America. Here’s how far it has gotten.]

The new study was conducted by Robert C. Pianta, dean of U-Va.’s Curry School of Education and a professor of education and psychology, and Arya Ansari, a postdoctoral research associate at U-Va.’s Center for Advanced Study for Teaching and Learning.

“You only need to control for family income and there’s no advantage,” Pianta said in an interview. “So when you first look, without controlling for anything, the kids who go to private schools are far and away outperforming the public school kids. And as soon as you control for family income and parents’ education level, that difference is eliminated completely.”

Kids who come from homes with higher incomes and parental education achievement offer young children — from birth through age 5 — educational resources and stimulation that other children don’t get. These conditions presumably carry on through the school years, Pianta said.

Pianta and Ansari used a longitudinal study of a large and diverse sample of children to examine the extent to which attending private schools predicts achievement and social and personal outcomes at age 15.

They started with data from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. That was a 10-site research project that followed children from birth to 15 years with a common study protocol, including an annual interview and observations at home and school and in the neighborhood.

In that years-long study, there were 1,364 families that became study participants, with ethnicity and household income largely representative of the U.S. population, though Pianta and Ansari looked at 1,097 of those children for their analysis.

The Pianta-Ansari study examined not only academic achievement, “which has been the sole focus of all evaluations of private schooling reported to date, but also students’ social adjustment, attitudes and motivation, and even risky behavior, all of which one assumes might be associated with private school education, given studies demonstrating schooling effects on such factors.”

It said:

“In short, despite the frequent and pronounced arguments in favor of the use of vouchers or other mechanisms to support enrollment in private schools as a solution for vulnerable children and families attending local or neighborhood schools, the present study found no evidence that private schools, net of family background (particularly income), are more effective for promoting student success.”

And it says this:

“In sum, we find no evidence for policies that would support widespread enrollment in private schools, as a group, as a solution for achievement gaps associated with income or race. In most discussions of such gaps and educational opportunities, it is assumed that poor children attend poor quality schools, and that their families, given resources and flexibility, could choose among the existing supply of private schools to select and then enroll their children in a school that is more effective and a better match for their student’s needs.

It is not at all clear that this logic holds in the real world of a limited supply of effective schools (both private and public) and the indication that once one accounts for family background, the existing supply of heterogeneous private schools (from which parents select) does not result in a superior education (even for higher income students).”

Pianta and Ansari note in the study that previous research on the impact of school voucher programs “cast doubt on any clear conclusion that private schools are superior in producing student performance.”

A 2013 book, The Public School Advantage,” by Christopher A. Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski, describes the results of a look at two huge data sets of student mathematics performance, that found public school students outperform private school ones when adjusted for demographics.

Pianta and Ansari refer to this book in this part of the report:

“Although recent studies separating enrollment from length of attendance suggest that the longer lower income students remain enrolled in a private school (at least up to 4 years) the higher the likelihood of accruing substantial benefits, the present report finds that length of enrollment was not associated with student outcomes, once family income was taken into consideration, consistent with other nonexperimental work (Lubienski & Lubienski, 2013).

For the one-third of the sample enrolled at any time in private school, on average these students attended private schools for 5 to 6 years, which is longer than the most recent follow-up evaluations of voucher programs (Berends & Waddington, in press; Mills & Wolf, 2017). Thus, even for students who remained in private school for almost half of their K-12 experience, there was no discernible association with any of the wide range of outcomes we assessed at age 15.”

Monday, July 30, 2018

Court Finds New Mexico's Funding System Deprives (Public School) Students of Adequate Education. Particularly Disadvantaged Students.

From the Education Law Prof Blog

By Wendy Lecker
July 25, 2018

"The remedy for lack of funds is not to deny public school children a sufficient education. Rather, the answer is to find more funds."

In a major victory for New Mexico public school children, the district court, in a July 20 ruling, found that inadequate school funding violates the education article of New Mexico's constitution, as well as violating the constitutional equal protection and due process rights of economically disadvantaged students, English Language Learners and Native American students.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) filed Martinez v. State in 2014, on behalf of parents and students, to establish education as a fundamental right and ensure meaningful educational opportunities for all students, especially those who are economically disadvantaged, English language learners (ELL), Native American, and/or of Spanish-heritage.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty filed a similar case, Yazzie v. State, also in 2014, and the trial court consolidated these cases. The trial team also included pro bono counsel Martin Estrada and his colleagues from Munger, Tolles & Olson in Los Angeles. The two- month trial before District Court Judge Sarah Singleton concluded in August 2017.

Adequacy Defined

Judge Singleton held that the Legislature, through various statutes, has defined what a constitutionally adequate education is for New Mexico students and, accordingly, relied on those statutory provisions to determine whether the state met its constitutional obligations. The court also established the burden of proof in a school funding case in the state, holding that the plaintiffs must prove a constitutional violation by a preponderance of the evidence.

Inadequate Inputs

Judge Singleton found that there was sufficient proof presented at trial of inadequate essential educational resources in New Mexico's schools. The evidence demonstrated that schools across the state suffered from inadequate instructional materials, curricula and teachers. The court highlighted that insufficient instructional material for Native Americans violated statutory mandates and therefore the constitutional rights of those students.

Judge Singleton determined that the essential resources to deliver a reasonable curriculum must include resources to provide at-risk students the opportunity to compensate for any barriers they may face.

Thus, the court found as essential such programs as quality full-day pre-K, summer school, after-school programs, small class size and research-based reading programs. The court credited expert testimony at trial that ELL students in particular benefited from smaller class size.

In finding inadequate funding for teachers and teacher training, the court addressed the trial evidence on the impact of New Mexico's test-based teacher evaluation system, noting that "punitive teacher evaluation systems that penalize teachers for working in high-need schools" exacerbated the quality-teacher supply deficits in these schools.

The court also found that high-needs districts had more inexperienced teachers, noting that it "is well-recognized that inexperienced teachers are systematically less effective than experienced teachers."

Inadequate Student Outcomes

Judge Singleton found that the inadequate inputs in New Mexico's schools led to inadequate student outcomes. She found that New Mexico students rank at the bottom of the nation in English and Math proficiency and high school graduation. The numbers are even worse, she found, for low-income, Native American and ELL students.

The court rejected state claims that outputs are sufficient because at-risk students show growth in achievement. She held that growth is not sufficient, since vulnerable student groups, despite growth, are do not attain proficiency. The court also remarked that even the state is unhappy with the rate of growth among at-risk groups.

The court also credited the evidence demonstrating that of the New Mexico students attending college, a substantial number require remediation-proof that these students were not college-ready.

State Defenses Rejected

Judge Singleton rejected the State's contention that state intervention was adequate in compensating for any inadequacies, noting that these interventions have not altered the evidence demonstrating that "at-risk students are still not attaining proficiency at the rate of non at-risk students."

The court found that the state Public Education Department assistance and oversight programs are piecemeal, and thus cannot replace adequate state school funding.

The court also dismissed the State's excuse that students' inadequate outcomes stem from socio-economic factors not attributable to the school system. Judge Singleton noted that while many of these factors exist outside schools, school programs, such as quality pre-K, K-3 Plus, extended school year, and quality teachers, have been proven to mitigate these factors and raise the achievement of at-risk students.

In fact, Judge Singleton noted the testimony of the State's experts, such as Eric Hanushek, who concluded that funding does make a difference in outcomes for at-risk students.

Judge Singleton also rejected claims made by New Mexico often made by states in other school funding cases. Notably, the court noted that the State could not escape its constitutional responsibility by contending that it cannot control district spending, since the state has supervisory responsibility over local districts.

The court also dismissed the contention that the State is constrained by the limited money in the State budget from doing more. The court declared that, "the remedy for lack of funds is not to deny public school children a sufficient education, but rather the answer is to find more funds."


In addition to finding the state in violation of the Education, Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the state constitution, the court's declaratory judgment also found that the State:

  • violated the rights of at-risk students by failing to provide them with a uniform statewide system of free public schools sufficient for their education;
  • failed to provide at-risk students with programs and services necessary to make them college or career ready;
  • failed to provide sufficient funding for all districts to deliver the programs and services required by the Constitution; and,
  • failed to supervise districts to assure that funding has been spent in the most efficient manner to meet the need to provide at-risk students with the programs and services necessary to obtain an adequate education.

To remedy the constitutional violation, Judge Singleton ordered the Legislature by April 15, 2019, to -take immediate steps to ensure that New Mexico schools have the resources necessary to give at-risk students the opportunity to obtain a uniform and sufficient education that prepares them for college and career.

The court also ordered the state to implement an accountability system to measure whether programs and services in place actually provide the opportunity for a sound basic education and to ensure that districts are spending funds in a way that efficiently and effectively meets the needs of at-risk students.

Judge Singleton has retained jurisdiction over the case in order to ensure state compliance with her orders.

Wendy Lecker is a Senior Attorney at Education Law Center.

Don’t Believe Reports that New Orleans is Regaining Control of its Schools

From The Progressive

By Ashana Bigard
July 26, 2018

Pundits say Louisiana has finally returned control of New Orleans charter schools to a locally elected school board, and that they are now accountable to the city’s residents. But New Orleanians will tell you: that’s not the case.

Prominent pundits in outlets like the New York Times and The 74 have been reporting that the state of Louisiana has returned control of New Orleans charter schools to a locally elected school board, and that they are thus accountable to the city’s residents.

But citizens in New Orleans will tell you: that’s not the case.

State Act 91 reunifies forty-nine schools that were placed under the jurisdiction of the so-called Recovery School District after Hurricane Katrina. The state of Louisiana took over the old New Orleans public school system in 2005, closing nearly every school, and hired independent charter school operators for 49 schools. Those charters are now back under the New Orleans Parish School Board as of July 1.

But the act does nothing to actually ensure that the local school board has any real power over the charter schools. The New Orleans Parish School Board can deny or approve new charters and decide on continuation of charter school contracts when they are up for renewal every four to five years. In terms of daily operations, however, the board has very little control.

This school board does have the power to sue schools, which it had to do when one charter school was not providing transportation for students. Einstein Charter Schools has spent over $85,000 on legal services defending itself after the district deemed the network “non-compliant” for not providing student transportation—but has yet to agree to supply bus service.

Overall, the city’s charter schools have greatly increased the distances that students have to travel, raising transportation costs by 33 percent since the reforms were initiated.

In terms of daily operations, however, the board has very little control.

Act 91 does not address the fact we have seen multiple incidences of students being handcuffed, physically abused in the name of discipline, and subjected to isolation in charter schools. We’ve had schools deny homeless children’s access to schools due to dress code violations. We have had parents desperate for support for their children who are not getting the special education they need, and New Orleans schools still suspend black students at higher rates than white students.

New Orleans Parish School Board can do little about any of these abuses of our children and community. But people here are tired of the apples to oranges comparison of New Orleans schools pre-Katrina, when schools had over 65,000 students. A count of students in 2016, in comparison, was about 49,000.

New Orleans schools today serve fewer students with a budget four times what it had been, and almost complete autonomy to operate any way they want.

Some of the other failures of New Orleans charter schools, many of them shared at a community forum held last year by the NAACP, include inadequate time for recess and arts education, insufficient nursing staff, too little special-education support, and little access to school decision-making processes, such as knowing who is on a school board, when meetings are held, and how to locate meeting minutes.

Teaching staff has changed significantly. After Katrina, more than 7,000 mostly African American women teachers were fired and replaced with new, far less experienced and qualified teachers, who change schools more often. New Orleans now spends more on administration and less on teaching than before Katrina.

High teacher turnover has a negative impact on school culture, teacher morale, and student achievement. The fact that we have a system that constantly rotates teachers and administrators in and out of schools means our children are set up to fail. Qualified teachers who are rooted in a community and can provide a stable environment are a key factor in student success.

The lack of focus on the arts in charter schools can’t be over-emphasized. We need to bring back the music, art, and all the beautiful things that make us who we are.

We’ll now have a school board that “shall not impede (delay or prevent) the operational autonomy of a charter school under its jurisdiction.”

School reform advocates continue to talk about what a success New Orleans schools are, despite the fact we have 20,000 children in D- and F-rated schools, and state rankings for our schools are on a three-year slide, dropping 65 percent from 2014 to 2017.

Most of our top-ranked schools are more than 50 percent white despite the fact 85 percent of our public school children are African-American.

Black students are far less likely to be taught by credentialed teachers, to attend schools ranked A or B, and to have access to advanced courses. Charter schools like Lusher high school, an A-rated selective admission charter with only 28 percent black African-American students, is part of the reason New Orleans has one of the most segregated systems of schools in the country.

When New Orleanians first heard they would regain local control of their schools, many assumed their schools would follow civil rights and labor laws, provide at least 30 minutes of school recess, include art and music education, give special education students the services they need, and are more accountable and transparent to parents.

But that’s not what we’re getting. With Act 91 (page 6, Section G), we’ll have a school board that “shall not impede (delay or prevent) the operational autonomy of a charter school under its jurisdiction.”

Next comes a long list of what’s off limits to public governance, including programming, instruction, curriculum, materials and texts, calendars and daily schedules, personnel hiring and firing, employee management and salaries and benefits, budgeting, and on and on.

In short, we’re getting a school board which has been reduced to a monitoring service, run by charter school advocates.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Ten Common Mistakes Parents Make During the IEP Meeting

From Kids Together, Inc.

By Matt Foley, M.Ed., L.P.C. and DeAnn Hyatt-Foley, M.Ed.
July 27, 2018

When our son was diagnosed with PDD-NOS, we found ourselves ill-equipped for our new role as advocates for him. Our first Individual Education Program (IEP) meeting was overwhelming. We found it very difficult to follow what the educators were talking about. We certainly did not know what our role was in the process.

We had the expectation that the trained educators of our IEP team would make the best possible decisions for our son's education.

Six months later, it became abundantly clear that the decisions we had agreed on in the IEP meeting were not the best for our son's education. It was at this time that we began to educate ourselves about PDD-NOS and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

In 1991 we began working with other parents to help them become informed about their child’s disability and the educational laws that are in place to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education.

It is important that parents become informed and involved in their child’s education. There are many sources of information and support in your state. However, the more skills you have and the more information you learn, the better you can advocate for your child. Over the past few years we have found that parents tend to make some common mistakes during the Individual Education Program (IEP) meeting.

The following is a list of common mistakes and some suggestions for avoiding them:

1.) Believing the professionals are the only experts.

It can be very intimidating to sit at a table with several educators and professionals. Professionals/Educators do bring a great deal of knowledge and experience to the table. Although most parents do not have a background or degree in education, they have a great deal of knowledge and experience regarding their child.

Parents are experts in their own right; they also provide historical information and the big picture from year to year. They know what works and does not work with their child and can be a great asset to the IEP team.

Parents have an intuitive sense as to what is appropriate for their child. After working with parents for nine years, we are still amazed at how parents are usually intuitively correct about what will work for their child. We encourage parents to follow their hunches. If something does not sound right, check it out. Usually after some research, parents will discover their hunch was correct.

2.) Not making requests in writing.

Any request a parent makes needs to be in writing. This includes requests for assessments, IEP meetings, correspondence, related services, etc. Written requests are important because they initiate timelines that the school district must follow in response to your request. This will also create a paper trail.

When you write a letter, be sure to send it certified mail. When you have a discussion by phone with a school official, write a letter that briefly outlines what you talked about. Documenting your conversations helps prevent miscommunication.

Documenting requests (i.e., teaching assistant, speech, etc.) for the IEP committee clarifies to the committee what you are requesting and allows you to use your own words (as opposed to the note taker paraphrasing your request). We encourage parents to type exactly what they think their child needs and list why they think it is educationally necessary. This helps parents think through why they are requesting a service for their child.

Have the IEP committee record the written request as part of the IEP minutes. At this point, the IEP committee has one of two choices: the committee can accept or deny the request. If the committee denies the request, then they must follow the procedural safeguards in IDEA and provide written notice of why they are denying the parents’ request.

This method makes it difficult for an IEP committee to tell parents “no” without thinking through the options. If the request is not written down, the school district is not obligated to provide the service. Make sure you write it down.

3.) Not being familiar with Prior Notice of the Procedural Safeguards (34 CFR 300.503).

All sections of the Procedural Safeguards are important to parents. This particular section gives parents some leverage during the IEP meetings. Whenever parents make a request for their child in the IEP meeting, the IEP committee is required under Prior Notice to provide the parents with written notice with a reasonable period of time.

The notice must include the following:
  • A description of the action proposed or refused.
  • An explanation of why the agency proposes or refuses to take the action;
  • A description of any other options that the agency considered and the reasons why those options were rejected;
  • A description of each evaluation procedure, test, record, or report the agency used as a basis for the proposed or refused action; and,
  • A description of any other factor that is relevant to the agency’s proposal or refusal.

We have found many instances where a parent requests an assessment or service only to have the IEP team tell the parent it cannot be done. By making all requests in writing and by requiring the IEP team to provide Prior Notice, the parents make the team accountable for its decisions.

This practice also takes issues out the emotional areas, allowing all team members to focus on IDEA standards.

4.) Requesting a related service instead of an assessment that supports the need for a related service.

Many times parents will request services such as speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, etc. in the IEP meeting. Frequently the IEP committee will respond by stating that the student does not need the service.

We recommend that parents do not request the service but request the assessment that supports the need for the related service. For example, instead of requesting speech for your child request a speech assessment.

Only a certified or licensed professional is qualified to determine if a child needs or does not need a particular related service. As in #2, list the reasons why you think an assessment is educationally necessary for your child and submit your request to the IEP committee as part of the IEP minutes.

5.) Accepting assessment results that do not recommend the services you think your child needs.

Sometimes parents receive assessment results that do not accurately describe their child and/or do not recommend the amount and duration of services the parents think the child needs. Under 34 CFR 300.352. Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE), parents of a child with a disability have the right to obtain an independent evaluation at public expense if they disagree with the results of the school’s assessment.

When the parent requests the IEE (in writing) the school has one of two choices: they may either provide the IEE in a reasonable period of time or they may take the parents to a due process hearing. When an IEE is agreed upon, parent and school must come to an agreement as to who is qualified to assess the student. The examiner for an IEE cannot be employed by the school district.

Parents should request the school district’s policy on guidelines and qualification for their examiners.

6.) Allowing the assessment information to be presented for the first time at the IEP meeting.

Parents are entitled to have the assessment information explained to them before the IEP meeting. We encourage parents to have the person who administered the assessment give them a copy of the report and meet with them to explain the report several days before the IEP meeting. This enables the parents to think through the information before making decisions for their child.

If all IEP decisions are based on the information from the assessment, it only makes sense for the parents to be knowledgeable and informed about the assessment results in a way they can understand.

7.) Accepting goals and objectives that are not measurable.

Measurable goals and objectives are paramount for your child’s IEP. Without measurable goals and objectives, it is difficult to determine if your child has had a successful school year. In working with parents, we have encountered many IEP goals and objectives that are not measurable.

All goals and objectives should come from assessment data. Assessment has four different components: 1) Formal assessment (i.e., WIAT, Woodcock-Johnson, Brigance), 2) Informal assessment (i.e., classroom work), 3) Teacher/parent observation, and 4) Interviews.

After the information has been collected about the student it is compiled into an assessment report. Recommendations on how to work with the student are listed toward the end of the report. If you receive an assessment report that does not give recommendations for potential goals and objectives, the assessment is not complete.

After the assessment has been completed, the IEP committee determines the student’s present level of performance (PLOP) and states what the student is currently able to do. The committee then develops the IEP goals and objectives. The goals state what the student is expected to accomplish by the end of the year. Objectives break the goals down into increments. For example:

Based on the Brigance and classroom work, Johnny is currently able to read on a fourth grade level with 90% mastery.

By the end of the school year Johnny will be able to read on a fifth grade level as measured by the Brigance and classroom work with 80% mastery.


  • By October 1, Johnny will be able to read on fourth grade, second month level with teacher assistance as measured by the Brigance and classroom work with 80% mastery.
  • By January 1, without teacher assistance, Johnny will be able to read on a fourth grade, sixth month level as measured by the Brigance and classroom work with 80% mastery.

A method of determining if your goals and objectives are measurable is to ask someone who is not on your IEP team to read them (i.e., a teacher, another parent, advocate, etc.). Then ask, “Hypothetically, if you were to go into the classroom, would you be able to see my child working on these goals and objectives?”

If someone outside of your IEP team cannot answer “yes”, then your goals and objectives are not measurable.

8.) Allowing placement decisions to be made before IEP goals and objectives are written.

Many times after assessment is discussed, the IEP committee will determine the child’s placement. Goals and objectives are always written before placement is discussed. To ensure that the child is placed in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), the IEP committee must determine: Which of these goals and objectives can best be met in the general classroom?

With any remaining goals and objectives that cannot be met in the general classroom, the committee determines: Which of these goals and objectives can be best met in the general classroom with modifications and support? This line of inquiry continues until all placement options have been decided upon for all the goals and objectives.

The committee must always start with the LRE and then work toward a more restrictive environment only as necessary.

IDEA is very clear that the IEP committee must always consider the general education classroom as the first option for students with disabilities.

9.) Allowing your child’s IEP meeting to be rushed so that the school staff can begin the next child’s IEP meeting.

This practice is particularly common at the end of the school year when educators are frantically trying to have IEP meetings for all the students who receive special education services. IEP meetings may be held one right after another. There is no problem with this practice as long as the members of the IEP team feel that all issues have been adequately discussed.

Many times, however, parents feel rushed. It is important that all issues are adequately addressed before ending the IEP meeting. When the educators have not planned adequate time to address all relevant issues, request that the IEP team meet again at a more convenient time to further discuss your child’s education.

10.) Not asking a lot of questions.

It is very important to ask questions and lots of them. Educators use many terms and acronyms specific to special education. Parents may become confused when these terms are used during the IEP meeting. This can add to the frustration that a parent may already be feeling when they do not understand what is being said.

It is important to ask what the terms or acronyms mean. Unless a parent has a background in special education, they are not expected to know the terms and acronyms. Informed decisions cannot be made when parents do not understand what is being discussed.

At some point in time we have made all the mistakes listed above. We developed the habit of debriefing after every IEP meeting to discuss our performance during the meeting. We have gradually accumulated information and developed skills and we continue to trust our intuition.

We have found that when parents apply the suggestions listed above while working with their IEP committee they will see results. It is important that parents continue to accumulate information and develop skills related to the IEP process. Most parents feel overwhelmed by the special education process.

Do not be discouraged in your pursuit to obtain the supports and services your child needs. We found it helpful to break the process down into small steps. When you use the suggestions listed above, you will be that much closer to obtaining your child’s Free Appropriate Public Education. After using each suggestion listed, pat yourself on the back for becoming an even better advocate for your child.

About the Authors

Matt Foley and DeAnn Hyatt-Foley live in Lubbock, Texas along with their son, Ryan. DeAnn is the West Texas Area Development Director for the PATH Project. She has been with PATH since 1993. Matt is a Licensed Professional Counselor with an M.ED. in private practice. Currently Matt and DeAnn are forming social skills groups for adolescents with Asperger’s Disorder and related disorders.

Skepticism Surrounds Autism Drug Given ‘Fast Track’ for Approval

From Spectrum News

By Hannah Furfaro
July 25, 201

Chit chat: Yamo Pharmaceuticals, a small biotech company, says its
drug improves communication skills in children with autism.

For more than a decade, pediatrician Peter Halas has overseen the treatment of a young autistic woman, Mary Anne, who consistently resisted his attempts to examine her. Mary Anne’s parents have brought her to his New Jersey clinic at least once a year since she was 10, but at each visit, she would push him away and say just one word: “No.” (Halas did not disclose Mary Anne’s last name, to protect her privacy.)

Halas prescribed Mary Anne anxiety medication, he says, but her mood and behaviors did not improve.

So, when Yamo Pharmaceuticals, a small biotechnology company based in New York City, asked Halas to lead a study on its candidate autism drug, he jumped at the opportunity. “This patient, who had been my patient for a long time and was severely autistic, immediately came to mind,” Halas says.

Halas convinced Mary Anne’s parents to enroll her as one of the study’s eight participants. Shortly after Mary Anne, then 24, began taking the drug, Halas says he witnessed a transformation.

“Within a week she became more comfortable, happier, and started to speak more,” he says. “The second week, she was starting to use sentences, asking questions and making eye contact.” She began to blow kisses to her family members, recalling minute details about nursery school teachers from 20 years earlier, and even attended a rock concert. And she allowed Halas to examine her.

As in the young woman’s case, results from the study — and a subsequent 41-person trial — hint that the drug, L1-79, improves social behaviors in adolescents and young adults with autism, according to J. Thomas Megerian, chief medical officer at Yamo.

The company has yet to publish its results or post them on, a federal repository of clinical trial results, so they are difficult to confirm, however.

Despite the dearth of data, in May the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted the drug ‘fast track’ status, according to Megerian. (FDA officials declined to confirm this, citing agency rules.)

Fast-track status is not an endorsement of a drug’s potential: A candidate drug can gain fast-track status if it has the potential to fulfill an unmet need for a serious medical condition; the agency can grant this status at any point during a drug’s review. The drug’s makers can also meet frequently with FDA officials about their study design.

Many scientists say they are surprised by the FDA’s decision because of the lack of published data on the drug’s effectiveness.

“[The decision] blows me away,” says Joseph Coyle, director of McLean Hospital’s Laboratory for Psychiatric and Molecular Neuroscience in Belmont, Massachusetts. The drug affects several distinct neuronal systems, he says, “most of which have nothing to do with autism.”

Guerilla Pharmacology

Yamo’s candidate is chemically similar to an approved cancer drug, Demser, whose mechanism is well understood. It inhibits an enzyme called tyrosine hydroxylase, which is critical for the production of chemical messengers called catecholamines. This category includes the chemical messengers dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine; abnormal dopamine signaling has been linked to autism in several ways.

Demser is used to treat tumors that release high levels of catecholamines. Yamo’s drug mixes Demser with a mirror image of its chemical structure — and the participants in both of Yamo’s studies took it at much lower doses than Demser’s typical dose, according to the company’s officials.

The Yamo drug would be expected to act similarly to Demser, although no animal studies exist to support that idea.

“We just treated patients; we didn’t do a lot of the kind of antecedent work that might be done in terms of investigating mechanisms,” says John Rothman, Yamo’s chief scientific advisor. The process was “a little bit of guerilla pharmacology,” he says, because Yamo operated on a shoestring budget in its early days.

Broad Claims

It’s unclear how blocking signaling by dopamine or other catecholamines would improve social behavior in people with autism — the claim the company makes in the white paper it made available to Spectrum.

In its description of the drug’s proposed mechanism, Yamo “was not only selective, but it was also to the point of being less than scholarly,” says George Anderson, senior research scientist at the Yale Child Study Center. “To think this is in any way improving a fundamental alteration of systems in autism is, I think, misguided.”

In Yamo’s phase II clinical trial, launched in 2016, 31 young men with autism, aged 13 to 21 years, took the drug for 28 days; another 10 took a placebo.

“Nobody thought this was going to show anything,” says Megerian. But to his surprise, he says, most participants taking the drug improved on several scales that assess social behavior.

Parents of children in the trials have given video testimonials that the company shared with the FDA about the drug’s benefits. In one video, a mother tells a story about her teenage son, who sometimes bangs his head on walls and head-butts his brothers. While taking the drug, she says, her son went for weeks without hurting himself; his sleep improved and he accepted his parents’ affection.

However, poignant anecdotes are no replacement for well-designed clinical trials, scientists note. Given the lack of published data, they are concerned about raising families’ hopes of a treatment.

“Parents are desperate for treatment for their kids,” Coyle says. “I can tell you, in terms of the autism community, there are a number of unfortunately fringe, charismatic people offering treatments that have no biomedical validity.”

Yamo officials say they intend to enroll 250 people with autism in a second phase II trial in early 2019.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Record-Breaking Grant May Fuel Autism Drug Development

From Spectrum News

By Dalmeet Singh Chawla
July 19, 2018

A huge new international research collaboration may jump-start the race to develop therapies for autism. With more than 113 million euros (about $132 million) in funding, it is the biggest project to date in autism research.

Launched in June, the Autism Innovative Medicine Studies-2-Trials, or AIMS-2-Trials, brings together 48 partners from 14 nations, including academic institutions, pharmaceutical giants and charities. One of its aims is to establish a clinical-trial network of more than 15 centers across the European Union.

Because autism may take vastly different forms, the ultimate goal is to tailor therapies to an individual’s biological profile, says Declan Murphy, professor of psychiatry and brain maturation at King’s College London and the academic lead on the project.

The researchers also plan to look for risk factors that render autistic people particularly susceptible to other conditions, such as anxiety and epilepsy. These co-occurring conditions add a “significant burden” on top of autism, Murphy says. The plan is to explore the connection between autism and these conditions, quantify their impact and investigate ways to treat and prevent them.

“That’s going to be extremely valuable because we already have treatments for those disorders,” says Peter Mundy, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California, Davis, who is not involved with the project. “That’s the area that I think we’re most likely to be able to address in a major way in the next few years.”

Many scientists see value in a large, concerted effort to tackle autism. Autism trials are typically conducted only at a few sites, and often with small numbers of participants who do not represent the entire spectrum, says Shafali Jeste, associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who is not part of the project.

The small sample sizes also generally do not reflect the economic and cultural diversity of people with autism. The new project should help fill these gaps, she says.

Still, some scientists say they worry that large, centralized studies could stifle the innovation that individual grants foster.

“Funding on such a scale will limit the opportunity for other voices to be heard and thus other scientific discoveries to be realized,” says Charles Nelson, professor of pediatrics and neuroscience at Harvard University.

Matthew Anderson, associate professor of pathology at Harvard, echoes that concern: “While I am very excited to see such enthusiasm to solve and treat autism, I do worry that the groupthink which can sometimes occur in these large programs might squelch independent innovative thought,” he says.


The new initiative follows a project called EU-AIMS, which ended in March. Led by the pharmaceutical company Roche and researchers at King’s College London, that project focused on developing a framework for drug discovery. Its leaders sought to validate biomarkers for autism and to work with regulators on establishing the best ways to run clinical trials.

The researchers also made advances in understanding how brain development, anatomy and function relate to autism features. The new collaboration extends the clinical parts of the previous project. It aims to study people through the lifespan in a bid to understand what drives the wide variation in outcomes.

The researchers also plan to investigate treatments based on their previous findings. For instance, Murphy and his colleagues found that the ratio of two chemical messengers in the brain, glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), is altered in people with autism, suggesting that shifting that balance might be beneficial (1).

For their first trial, the researchers plan to test arbaclofen, a drug that activates a subset of GABA receptors, which may restore the balance between these chemical messengers.

The trials may also explore other types of treatments, such as behavioral therapies that improve social skills, Murphy says.

The initiative is funded by several partners, including the Innovative Medicines Initiative, a European public-private effort that provides about half the funding; charities such as Autism Speaks, the U.K.-based Autistica and the New York-based Simons Foundation (Spectrum’s parent organization).

About 2.6 million euros come from the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, similar to PhRMA in the United States.

The effort brings together experts in neuroscience, genetics, metabolomics, proteomics, big data, fetal development and clinical trials. The diversity of expertise is necessary to tackle the heterogeneity of autism, says Thomas Bourgeron, a geneticist at Institut Pasteur in Paris and one of the collaborators.

Jeste, who is part of a similar U.S. effort called the Autism Biomarkers Consortium for Clinical Trials, says it is also notable that the project includes many stakeholders, including advocacy groups. “They’ll be representing many different facets of the field at once,” she says. “That’s pretty exciting.”

  1. Horder J. et al. Transl. Psychiatry 8, 106 (2018) PubMed

A Conservative Supreme Court Could Threaten the Education of Immigrant Students

From The Hechinger Report

By Andre Perry
July 11, 2018

When they come for our rights, who will you stand with — and who will stand with you?

When we think of what’s at stake in education with the impending conservative swing of the Supreme Court, I bet most would say, “Affirmative action.” But there’s another case that may soon become top of mind for us: the 1982 case of Plyler v. Doe.

That ruling prohibited school officials from considering immigration status when enrolling children, and while various states and localities have attempted to circumvent the decision, in recent years it has been considered uncontroversial and settled into law.

But what if a reconfigured bench with Neil Gorsuch and, potentially, President Trump nominee Brett Kavanaugh were to hear the case again today? That question may not be purely hypothetical. The 1982 decision was narrowly decided, five in favor, four against.

In his ruling opinion, Justice William Brennan wrote that “under current laws and practices, ‘the illegal alien of today may well be the legal alien of tomorrow,’” and that without an education, undocumented children, “[a]lready disadvantaged as a result of poverty, lack of English-speaking ability, and undeniable racial prejudices, . . . will become permanently locked into the lowest socio-economic class.”

Chief Justice Warren Burger offered the dissenting opinion, stating that “the Constitution does not constitute us as ‘Platonic Guardians,’ nor does it vest in this Court the authority to strike down laws because they do not meet our standards of desirable social policy, ‘wisdom,’ or ‘common sense.’”

But we’ve all had to bear witness to undesirable, nay, unspeakable social policy. With Trump’s disastrous Zero Tolerance policy at the border that separated thousands of migrant children from their families, he has encouraged a xenophobic sentiment that imperils the future status of immigrant students.

And, while the potential theft of an education is particularly pressing for immigrants, all people of color share a fate with migrant children. The trauma that affects individual students reverberates schoolwide. All students need safe spaces to learn; denying certain students an education damages the learning environment as a whole.

Schools are supposed to unleash their students’ potential — and that includes their ability to become citizens. If the Supreme Court can’t see immigrant children as potential citizens, as the 1982 court did, what’s to say it won’t see the potential in native-born or naturalized students?

Sure, the court may not explicitly undo the 1954 Brown v. Board decision, which outlawed the separate but equal doctrine, but it can remove the basic rights of students they don’t see potential in, rendering them second-class citizens. (It certainly wouldn’t be the first time!)

If the Supreme Court can’t see immigrant children as potential citizens, as the 1982 court did, what’s to say it won’t see the potential in native-born or naturalized students?

Descendants of the enslaved and women know what it is like to be second-class citizens. We know when white men refused to recognize our potential. The threat to immigrants is a threat to all of us.

In Plyler v. Doe, the court held that a Texas law blocking the use of state funds to educate undocumented citizens was unconstitutional. The ruling was based on the equal protection provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Of particular concern to the court was the fact that children — rather than their parents — were involved. The court believed that denying undocumented children access to education punished children for their parents’ behavior and did not comport with basic ideas of justice.

In addition, the ruling acknowledged that time spent in the country and the unlikelihood of deportation are factors to be considered in the allocation of education benefits. It said that children of undocumented parents should be taken as future members of society and granted benefits befitting such a status. As a result of this act, thousands of undocumented school-age children attend public primary and secondary institutions.

According to a 2016 report published by the think tank the Pew Research Center, there were an estimated 725,000 unauthorized immigrants enrolled in K-12 schools, about 1.3 percent of total K-12 enrollment in 2014. Roughly 3.2 million children who are U.S. citizens had at least one unauthorized parent that year, around 5.9 percent of total K-12 enrollment.

These numbers represent our children’s friends, classmates and future colleagues. An attack on current law would result in children being separated from their schools, families or worse. Members of the Trump administration have already introduced the idea of having schools notify immigration officials if they suspect (read: racially profile) a child of being undocumented.

On May 22, Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), who sits on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, asked U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos whether school leaders should report undocumented students or families to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. DeVos responded, “I think that’s a school decision, it’s a local community decision.”

She added, “And again, I refer to the fact that we have laws and we also are compassionate, and I urge this body to do its job and address and clarify where there is confusion around this.”

There were an estimated 725,000 unauthorized immigrants enrolled in K-12 schools, about 1.3 percent of total K-12 enrollment in 2014.

DeVos’ response clearly indicated she either did not understand federal law or she suggested that local schools circumvent it. A person who understands that actions against a student can impact the student body and recognizes the potential trauma of having educators summon immigration authorities on their own students would not have made that claim.

DeVos walked back her assertion on June 5 in a statement, saying that “schools are not, and should never become, immigration enforcement zones.”

The education secretary has forgotten that for much of our country’s history, women were denied the right to vote and were discouraged from attending or denied entrance in most colleges and universities in this country. But prioritizing whiteness over womanhood is something that prevents many white women from seeing the historical connection they have with immigrants.

Some of us don’t have the luxury of suppressing how we are oppressed. For black folk, the calls to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal immigration enforcement agency, is little different than the calls to local police when black people mow their lawns, swim in an area pool, sleep on a couch in their school’s dorm, shop in a mall, drive a nice or other humdrum activities of life.

Muslims, who were targeted by Trump’s travel ban, recently upheld by the Supreme Court, also feel this connection. The LBGTQ community understands the vulnerability stemming from the Trump administration’s removal of protections that combat discrimination.

I’m reminded of the famous solidarity quote from Martin Niemöller, the Protestant pastor who spoke out against the silence in the face of Nazi rule:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Oppressors have come for so many that we are scared to speak out against what is happening in the country. But history is repeating itself. People of color, women, LGBTQ people and Muslims share a common destiny, and we can change the future — together — if we speak out for immigrants today.

This is not the first conservative Supreme Court and it may not be the last. Too many of us know this too well.