Education Progress? A Deeper Look

Recently, I received a copy of the Madison Metropolitan School District’s 1st Quarterly Review of its Strategic Framework. It is addressed to the Madison Community and opens as follows:

We are pleased to present our 1st quarterly review of progress for the 2015-16 school year. Our school district is on a mission to close the gaps in opportunity that lead to disparities in achievement and to ensure that every child graduates ready for college, career, and community.

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However, as I read the review, I noted that it focused exclusively on African-American students and contained very little data, none of which appeared to be from the 2015-16 school year. While I fully support the need for Madison to close the educational achievement gaps for its African-American students, this cannot be done successfully by touting limited and misleading data. Moreover, my long career in educational advocacy has taught me that educational progress for one group of students cannot be achieved in isolation from the rest of the school district. Rather, educational progress must be premised in articulating clear achievable goals, providing necessary support and training to staff and students to achieve those goals and holding administrators accountable when goals are not met.

Thus, when I examined MMSD’s progress in its Strategic Framework from the 2013-14 to this 2014-15 school year, I was troubled to discover that the progress is not nearly as rosy as the district’s 1st Quarter Review suggests.

Here are some key pieces of data that the district does not reveal in its 1st Quarter Review.

District-wide Progress

  • Grade 3: Math Proficiency 45% (up 2% from the prior year)
  • Grade 3: Reading Proficiency 37% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Math Proficiency 48% (up 6% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Reading Proficiency 44% (up 4% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Math Proficiency 42% (up 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Reading Proficiency 39% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 9: 2 or more Fs 20% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 11: 3.0 GPA 48% (down 2% from the prior year)
  • High School Completion Rate: 79% (up 1% from the prior year)

African-American Students (click on link and manually change group)

  • Grade 3: Math Proficiency 16% (up 4% from the prior year)
  • Grade 3: Reading Proficiency 13% (up 5% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Math Proficiency 12% (up 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Reading Proficiency 15% (up 5% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Math Proficiency 7% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Reading Proficiency 9% (up 3% from the prior year)
  • Grade 9: 2 or more Fs 47% (up 3% from the prior year)
  • Grade 11: 3.0 GPA 13% (no change from the prior year)
  • High School Completion Rate: 56% (up 2% from the prior year)

Hispanic Students (click on link and manually change group)

  • Grade 3: Math Proficiency 26% (up 6% from the prior year)
  • Grade 3: Reading Proficiency 20% (up 5% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Math Proficiency 25% (up 6% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Reading Proficiency 18% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Math Proficiency 21% (up 3% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Reading Proficiency 18% (up 2% from the prior year)
  • Grade 9: 2 or more Fs 30% (down 8% from the prior year)
  • Grade 11: 3.0 GPA 35% (up 9% from the prior year)
  • High School Completion Rate: 70% (no change from the prior year)

Students in Special Education (click on link and manually change group)

  • Grade 3: Math Proficiency 20% (up 2% from the prior year)
  • Grade 3: Reading Proficiency 13% (up 4% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Math Proficiency 13% (down 4% from the prior year)
  • Grade 5: Reading Proficiency 11% (down 6% from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Math Proficiency 12% (no change from the prior year)
  • Grade 8: Reading Proficiency 10% (down 3% from the prior year)
  • Grade 9: 2 or more Fs 38% (down 1% from the prior year)
  • Grade 11: 3.0 GPA 18% (up 3% from the prior year)
  • High School Completion Rate: 50% (up 3% from the prior year)

As you can see, the results are mixed and though there is some progress from some students, in many ways the results are very troubling. To be clear, I am a strong supporter of our public schools and will continue my many years of advocacy to make sure they receive the support and funding they need to provide a high quality education to all of our children.

However, it does not help to provide limited data to the public to create a perception that more progress is being made than is actually the case. That is why I have provided this deeper look.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Motivation: the Key to Success

Whether you are a parent, a teacher, an employer, or in any other position where your goal includes getting others to achieve success, an often elusive key is discovering the motivation that will create an environment for success.

In school, how students’ teachers provide feedback to students can make a huge difference in their students’ success. Sometimes it does not take a huge change in behavior. For example, in a recent study, 7th grade students were asked to write an essay about a hero. In addition to providing typical feedback, researchers added one of two sticky notes to the students’ papers. One note blandly stated, “I’m giving you these comments so that you’ll have feedback on your paper.” The other note said, “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know you can reach them” Then the students were given the option to revise their essays.

As reported in the Atlantic,

The results were striking. Among white students, 87 percent of those who received the encouraging teacher message turned in new essays, compared to 62 percent of those who got the bland note. Among African American students, the effect was even greater, with 72 percent in the encouraged group doing the revision, compared to only 17 percent of those randomly chosen to get the bland message. And the revised essays received higher scores from both the students’ teachers and outside graders hired for the study.

The researchers

concluded that students were more motivated to take an extra step academically when they perceived their teachers’ critical feedback as a genuine desire to help rather than as an expression of indifference or disdain toward their racial group. To further test that hypothesis, Yeager and Cohen surveyed students’ trust of their teachers going into the study and found that the encouraging note had the largest effect on a subgroup of African American students who had previously reported trusting their teachers the least (as measured by survey questions such as, “My teachers … have a fair and valid opinion of me”).

Parents, teachers and employers often find that procrastination is a huge barrier to success. Once again, finding methods to motivate people to move out of a state of procrastination is the key to their success. We must account for emotions in order to motivate people to achieve success. This often means that simply providing someone who is stuck with a rational explanation for why it is better to move forward will often not succeed. Motivation requires finding what will improve the person’s mood. It is not the same for everyone and is often elusive, but if found, the likely result will be improved performance.

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Sometimes, providing a reward will help to reinforce the positive motivation that is necessary to accomplish one’s goal. Once again, however, the reward required to motivate someone will vary with the individual and the task to be accomplished.  What is clear, however, is that simply punishing someone for failing to accomplish a goal is unlikely to provide the motivation necessary for success.

Finally, positive peer pressure is often essential to motivate success. It is often the case that the last person someone who is stuck wants to hear from is their parent, teacher or boss. Even if the parent, teacher or boss tries to convey a positive message, it is often perceived negatively. That dynamic changes if the person who needs motivation is encouraged by peers to move forward.

Of course, this all sounds easier to accomplish than genuine motivation often is, but one thing I have learned in 18 years of parenting, and over 30 years of teaching and managing employees, is that sometimes even showing your child, student or employee that you are searching for a way to motivate them, will help the 2 of you find that elusive key to their motivation.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Staff Appreciation: Improving Education in ways that cannot be measured

My son has competed in 3 high school sports throughout his 4 years of high school.  Since I may be his biggest fan, I have attended countless soccer & hockey games as well as track meets.  However, it is only his hockey team that holds an annual Staff Appreciation Night.  Indeed, I have not observed any other high school team host such an event.  Last night, the Madison Eastside Lakers (comprised of students who attend East, La Follette and Shabazz High Schools) hosted this wonderful event one more time.

Last year, this event inspired me to write about how student athletics helps improve grades and graduation rates.  Studies prove this and my observations of my son and his teammates verify this improvement in many cases. However, this year’s event, likely my last, gives me pause to reflect on the intangible ways in which appreciating staff enhances education in many ways.

We organize Staff Appreciation Night by asking the players and managers to invite any school staff member who means something special to them.  This can range from a school custodian to a principal and every type of staff person in between.  Thus, the appreciation begins before the actual event as the students must put some thought into whom they wish to invite, and actually ask the staff person (and perhaps more than one if the desired first choice is unavailable that evening).  The athletes then give their chosen staff person their away jersey to wear to the game.

Parents provide potluck treats for staff (and the players after the game), as their own way of saying thanks to these special staff.  We invite them to come early to enjoy these treats, and their early arrival also provides them a chance to meet parents, in many cases for the first time.

Every time we have held this remarkable event, staff enthusiastically participate and have a chance to provide unsolicited feedback to the athletes’ parents.  Indeed, as I sat in the stands watching the game, teachers who had not yet connected with parents asked me to help them find them so they could talk to them.  In our case, my son invited his Chemistry teacher, whom we had yet to meet.  She had high praise for our son, which was greatly appreciated and I overheard similar conversations throughout the stands.

I also heard many teachers remarking at how impressed they were at how hard the  boys worked at playing hockey.  So, this event provides the opportunity to allow staff, students and parents to get to know each other more holistically, rather than solely through the lens of the classroom, school assignments and tests.

While no student athlete will be graded for his or her performance in a given sport, the benefits to both students and staff of showing genuine appreciation can be seen in the unrehearsed smiles from both.

IMG_2288Of course, there was also a hockey game, and having so many school staff attend always gives the team a boost. IMG_2285

On behalf of the Madison Eastside Laker parents, I extend my thanks to the dedicated staff from East, La Follette and Shabazz high schools, who gladly came to last night’s game, without monetary compensation, to cheer on their students who, in turn, extended their appreciation to  their much beloved teachers.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change  contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Madison School Improvement Plan: Insufficient Accountability

Earlier this week, Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham held a press conference touting the progress which the district has made after one year under her leadership.  The basis for her claim was the progress made by many schools as set forth under her First Annual Report.  To make sure that MMSD parents were aware of how each school is doing under what she has dubbed the Strategic Frameworkshe e-mailed MMSD parents with links to the Annual Report, and encouraged them to examine the results of the children’s schools.

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To that end, I have examined the results at Madison East High School, and despite the fact that my son gets a good education there, the results reveal significant academic problems, huge racial disparities, and simply no information about school discipline issues.

First, it is worth examining the demographics of East High, which interestingly are found in the accountability link.  In the 2013-14 school year, East High had:

  • 55.4% low-income students;
  • 24.7% English Language Learners;
  • 21.5% Special education students; and
  • a minority white student, with 59.3% of its students being non-white.

Next, the academic achievement results as shown in the School Improvement Plan which provides no data for any minority groups other than African-Americans and students in special education reveals that:

  • While there was some improvement with 33% of 9th graders having 2 or more course failures compared to 38% the prior year, this is still a very high rate of failure and is magnified by significant racial and disability disparities with 49% of African-American 9th graders having 2 or more course failures, and 45% of students in special education having 2 or more course failures;
  • Once again, there was some improvement with 36% of 11th graders having a 3.0 grade point average or higher (compared to 31% the prior year), these rates plummet to 11% for African-American students, and 10% for students in special education;
  • Reading and math scores show similar improvement, but once again striking racial and disability disparities with 45% of students at a college ready reading level, but only 22% of African-American students and 18% of students in special education reading at that level; and 40% of students at college ready math level, but only 12% of both African-American and students in special education reading at that level;
  • Finally, the 4 year graduation rate has improved overall to 83%, but it is only 70% for African-American students and a mere 49% for students in special education, which unfortunately suggests that many students are graduating without college ready reading or math abilities.

Sadly, given all the attention paid to the school district’s significant modification of its Behavior Education Plan earlier this year, there is no school discipline data provided to parents or the public, which means there are no goals, nor any accountability for this area which is so critical to improving student achievement and shutting down the school to prison pipeline.

In sum, while some improvement is worth bragging about, the high level of racial and disability disparities which remain, and complete lack of data and goals around improved behavior mean that MMSD has a long way to go if it School Improvement Plan will result in a quality education for all of its students, preparing them to be productive adults upon graduation.

_________________________________________________________________________________________ For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Urge Congress to Pass Keeping All Students Safe Act

About two years ago, Wisconsin’s legislature joined 18 states which have a meaningful law protecting its children from inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint in school.  Known as Act 125, this law went into effect on September 1, 2012, and although it has not eliminated the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint in Wisconsin schools, anecdotally, its use has dropped, and parents are generally notified when it happens so better planning for the child’s safety and needs can take place.  From my vantage point, I note that this law continues to draw great interest, as my post describing its features back in November, 2012, is my second most popular post, receiving views on a regular basis to this day.

However, as the National Autism Committee reports, the need for federal legislation is great, as most states continue to have little or no meaningful regulation of this traumatizing, dangerous, and sometimes deadly practice.

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Fortunately, Sen. Tom Harkin, has introduced S. 2036, known as the Keeping All Students Safe Act, to remedy this problem.  The key features of this important bill are that it:

  • Requires each state educational agency and local educational agency (LEA) that receives federal funds to prohibit school personnel, contractors, and resource officers from subjecting students to: (1) seclusion, (2) mechanical or chemical restraint, (3) aversive behavioral intervention that compromises student health and safety, or (4) physical restraint that is life-threatening or contraindicated based on the student’s health or disability status.
  • Excludes from the definition of “seclusion” time outs that involve the separation of a student from the group, in a non-locked setting, for the purpose of calming.
  • Allows physical restraint only when: (1) the student’s behavior poses an immediate danger of serious physical harm to the student or others; (2) the restraint does not interfere with the student’s ability to communicate; and (3) the restraint occurs after less restrictive interventions have proven ineffective in stopping the danger, except in certain emergencies when immediate restraint is necessary.
  • Requires school personnel imposing physical restraint to: (1) be trained and certified by a state-approved crisis intervention training program, though others may impose such restraint in certain instances when trained personnel are not immediately available; and (2) engage in continuous face-to-face monitoring of the restrained student.
  • Requires: (1) the parents of a physically restrained student to be notified on the day such restraint occurs; (2) a debriefing session to be held as soon as practicable in which the person who imposed the restraint, the immediate adult witnesses, a school administrator, a school mental health professional, and at least one of the student’s family members participate; (3) the affected student to be given an opportunity to discuss the event with a trusted adult who will communicate the student’s perspective to the debriefing session group; and (4) the state educational agency, the LEA, local law enforcement, and any protection and advocacy system serving an affected student to be notified within 24 hours of any death or bodily injury that occurs in conjunction with efforts to control a student’s behavior.
  • Authorizes a student to file a civil action seeking relief from the use of seclusion or restraint on the student in violation of this Act; and
  • Authorizes the Secretary of Education to award grants to states and, through them, competitive subgrants to LEAs to: (1) establish, implement, and enforce policies and procedures to meet this Act’s requirements; (2) improve their capacity to collect and analyze data related to physical restraint; and (3) implement school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports.

As this current Congress is well known for its dysfunctional inability to pass meaningful legislation of any kind, the only way this bill stands a chance of passing is with a groundswell of grassroots support.  To that end, a Stop Hurting Kids Campaign has been established to make it easy to contact your members of Congress urging passage of this important bill.  You can do so on-line by going to this link.  There is also a Facebook page you can like to get regular updates on the progress of the bill.

Currently, S. 2036 only has 4 co-sponsors (Sens. Murphy (CT); Hirono (HI); Baldwin (WI); and Shaheen (NH).  Contact your Senators TODAY to broaden this group of co-sponsors which will enhance the possibility that the bill will pass the Senate and move on to the House of Representatives.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Replicate this: The Kalamazoo Promise Works

The sound and fury of school reform proponents is deafening as they decry public school failures and urge privatization, charters and high stakes testing.  Equally furious public school supporters seek to cast blame for public school failures on the twin devils of inadequate school funding and student poverty.  Remarkably, neither camp spends a lot of time focusing on innovative programs with proven success and encouraging successful replication.

While successful systems change requires genuine root cause analysis of the problems which require change, real change is far easier and more likely to succeed when a successful model exists which is worthy of replication.  When it comes to increasing high school graduation rates, improving grades, and lowering behavior problems, the Kalamazoo Promise is a program which succeeds in all these measures, and clearly deserves emulation nationwide.

The Kalamazoo Promise started 8 years ago, and has nearly 4000 eligible students. Through sufficient donations, it promises to provide public college scholarships to Kalamazoo High School graduates, with at least a 2.0 grade point average, so unlike many other scholarship programs, it is not designed to serve only academically oriented students.  Of course, students must perform well enough in high school to gain entry into a Michigan college or university, which encourages students who want to obtain the Promise scholarships to work harder.  However, scholarships are available to every Michigan public post-secondary institution from local community colleges to flagship institutions such as the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, thereby fitting the needs of any student who seeks a post-secondary education.

The scholarships provide 65% of public college tuition and mandatory fees for Kalamazoo students who enrolled in high school in 9th grade, sliding up to 100% for those who attend Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) from Kindergarten through 12th grade.  This feature has actually served to increase public school enrollment in Kalamazoo, stemming what had been an 18 year trend of declining enrollment and white flight.  Between 80-90% of KPS graduates have been eligible for college scholarships and between 82-85% have received scholarships ranging from $5,000-55,000.

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This chart also reveals that KPS is a mid-size urban school district with significant poverty (13.6% in the 2000 census), and a racially diverse make-up, which makes it all the more appropriate for replication in the myriad of other similar districts throughout the country. This enrollment rise reflects both new students coming into KPS because of the Promise as well as fewer students leaving (through drop out or moving) than prior to the Promise.

In addition to the clear benefit from enrollment rising in KPS, a recent study shows important academic and behavioral results from the Promise:

  • Increased credits obtained by KPS high school students;
  • Increased grades earned by all KPS students with a more dramatic increase for African-American students; and a
  • Decrease in days of suspension for all students, with a more dramatic decrease for African-American students.

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The researchers appropriately deem these results striking and further find that:

The decrease in the number of days spent in suspension might have shifted past some “tipping point” beyond which more presence in the classroom leads to higher grades, while leaving the white students less affected.

With results like these, school advocates of all stripes should push private foundations as well as state and federal governments to put their energy and funding into replicating the Kalamazoo Promise nationwide.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

 

Transformative Justice & the Broken Chair

Perhaps it is fitting that one of the areas about which I am most passionate in my work, is the area of school discipline since I suffered under its yoke quite a bit, particularly in junior high school, when I received dozens of detentions (often for foul language) and was once suspended for “gross disrespect.”  Having experienced a lot of school discipline first hand, I learned quite intimately how poorly applied school discipline only served to make me angry and taught me to disrespect those applying inane punishments (e.g., 1000x of writing “I will call my gym teacher Mr. Dressler.”).  Fortunately, I also learned when appropriate discipline served to teach me an important lesson, allowing the teacher the regain control of the classroom, assure safety, and earn my respect.

When I was in 4th grade, attending Dewey Elementary school, in Oak Park, Michigan, a lower-middle class predominantly Jewish suburb bordering Detroit, I had my first African-American teacher, Mrs. Blackmun.  She was an excellent teacher and I have many fond memories of that year.  However, I had one unfortunate habit which was leaning back on my chair. Despite Mrs. Blackmun’s repeated admonitions to stop doing that for fear that I might fall and hurt myself, I simply could not break my habit of leaning back, which of course resulted in periodic falls, thereby disrupting the class, with new warnings from Mrs. Blackmun.

Towards the end of that year, I fell backwards in my chair one last time.  On this occasion, the back of the wooden chair broke and left a rough wooden edge.  I knew that I was in trouble and meekly awaited my punishment.  At that moment, Mrs. Blackmun showed her utter brilliance by announcing that my punishment was simply that I would continue to sit in the broken chair for the rest of the year.  No suspension, no trip to the office to be scolded by the principal, no parent meeting to shame me, and no requirement to pay for a new chair, which obviously at that age, I could not afford.  Her punishment not only fit the crime, but it was truly transformative because due to the jagged edge, I simply could no longer lean back in my chair and potentially fall backwards, hurt myself and disrupt the class.  To Mrs. Blackmun, I owe my undying gratitude as her brilliant punishment taught me that it is possible to transform a misdeed into a life long lesson that I have carried with me ever since for nearly 45 years.

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A recent article discussing both restorative and transformative justice defined transformative justice as follows:

With the term transformative justice, it is more blatantly clear that we wish to not only provide restitution to the victim, but that we want to improve the overall situation for the victim, the offender, and the community.

With the schools to prison pipeline continuing to explode, more educators should heed Mrs. Blackmun’s lesson and seek to apply transformative justice in their schools and classrooms.  The chairs may not get repaired, but the students’ lives will be transformed in a positive manner.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

 

Read my Lips: Charter Schools are Public Schools & Must Comply with Civil Rights Laws

The battle lines have been drawn in the education reform movement.  There are those who would privatize as much of our public education through vouchers as possible, and they are strongly opposed by those who defend public education at all costs.  As is often the case, when the vitriol gets louder, confusion reigns, and in education reform, confusion has reigned supreme in the charter school arena.

Many who oppose school privatization oppose charter schools, despite their potential for innovation,  because they believe that charter schools are just another vehicle for privatizing and therefore destroying public schools.  Fortunately, the US Department of Education (USDOE), has made perfectly clear that charter schools are public schools subject to all federal civil rights laws.  In a guidance letter issued by the USDOE’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) on May 14, 2014, it was made abundantly clear that,

These laws extend to all operations of a charter school, including recruiting, admissions, academics, educational services and testing, school climate (including prevention of harassment), disciplinary measures (including suspensions and expulsions), athletics and other nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities, and accessible buildings and technology.

The guidance letter specifies 4 key federal laws that apply to charter schools:

  • Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin;
  • Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (prohibiting discrimination based on sex); and
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (prohibiting discrimination based on disability).

The OCR letter states that a separate guidance letter will be issued in collaboration with the USDOE’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) to address charter schools’ obligations to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Eduction Act (IDEA).

Some key provisions of the new guidance letter are:

  • Charter schools may not discriminate in admissions.  This includes:

Charter schools must ensure that language-minority parents who are not proficient in English receive meaningful access to the same admissions information and other school-related information provided to English-proficient parents in a manner and form they can understand, such as by providing free interpreter and/or translation services.Also, communications with parents with disabilities must be as effective as communications with other parents. Appropriate auxiliary aids and services (such as Braille materials or a sign language interpreter) must be made available whenever they are necessary to ensure equally effective communication with parents with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities.

Of course, this means that charter schools may not have admissions criteria which discriminate on their face.  But, in addition,

a charter school may not use admissions criteria that have the effect of excluding students on the basis of race, color, or national origin from the school without proper justification. Charter schools also may not categorically deny admission to students on the basis of disability.

  • Regarding children with disabilities, OCR makes clear that,

every student with a disability enrolled in a public school, including a public charter school, must be provided a free appropriate public education–that is, regular or special education and related aids and services that are designed to meet his or her individual educational needs as adequately as the needs of students without disabilities are met. Evaluation and placement procedures are among the requirements that must be followed if a student needs, or is believed to need, special education or related services due to a disability. Charter schools may not ask or require students or parents to waive their right to a free appropriate public education in order to attend the charter school. Additionally, charter schools must provide nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities in such a manner that students with disabilities are given an equal opportunity to participate in these services and activities.

  • For English Language Learners,

charter schools must take “affirmative steps” to help English-language learners overcome language barriers so that they can participate meaningfully in their schools’ educational programs. (emphasis supplied) A charter school must timely identify language-minority students who have limited proficiency in reading, writing, speaking, or understanding English, and must provide those students with an effective language instruction educational program that also affords meaningful access to the school’s academic content. Federal civil rights laws do not, however, require any school, including a charter school, to adopt or implement any particular educational model or program of instruction for English-language learners; schools have substantial flexibility to determine how they will satisfy their legal obligations to meet these students’ needs.

The latest guidance on charter schools also affirms that the prior guidance issued by the USDOE jointly with the US Dept. of Justice on discriminatory school discipline also applies to charter schools.  As I wrote about previously, this guidance is an important step in stopping the schools to prison pipeline.

Of course, laws are only as good as their enforcement, so it is good that OCR ends its guidance by providing a link to its contact information and complaint form.  It also provides its toll free number and e-mail address: (800) 421-3481 & ocr@ed.gov.  OCR is clearly inviting complaints if charter schools violate the law.  It will be up to advocates to make sure that OCR honors its commitment to enforce the law if violations occur.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Stop Paternalizing Children with Disabilities

In the many years I have advocated for children with disabilities, I have frequently encountered those who purport to care so deeply for children with disabilities (rarely their own) that they support methods of care and support and even legislation that purports to protect these children, but when analyzed more closely, does a great disservice to these children by preventing them to live as fully and independently as possible.

My advocacy has included combatting paternalistic policies and practices including segregating children with disabilities in separate schools, which prevents them from making friends with non-disabled children who will help them with sustaining networks in their adult lives.  Even worse, is institutionalizing children with disabilities under the guise of protecting them, but ultimately ruining their chances to live free and independent lives.

It has recently come to my attention that under the guise of helping students with disabilities, Louisiana’s legislature is proposing 2 bills that would undermine those children’s access to a quality education.

House Bill No. 993 contains the following highly damaging provisions:

  1. Waives the requirement that students with disabilities must meet state and local performance standards in order to graduate high school;
  2. Waives the requirement that students with disabilities must pursue the same “rigorous curriculum required for his chosen major by his school as approved by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education,” as all other students.
  3. Waives all state and local graduation requirements for students with disabilities.
  4. Waives the requirement that students with disabilities (along with all other students) must read at the “approaching basic” level on either the English/Language Arts or mathematics component of the 8th grade state assessment, as well as the other objective criteria established by the local school district, in order to be promoted from 8th grade to 9th grade.
  5. Waives the requirement that students with disabilities (along with all other students) who score at the unsatisfactory level on the state assessment, must complete a summer remediation program in that subject area in order to complete a high school major in that subject area.
  6. Provides that all pupil grade progressions for students with disabilities shall be determined by the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team.
  7. Provides that if a pupil with disabilities meets her IEP goals, she can receive a high school diploma.

House Bill No. 1015 goes even further down the road of degrading the education of children with disabilities in the name of protecting them.  It would:

  1. Exclude children with disabilities from the same grade promotion standards as all other children and simply allow their IEP team to determine whether to promote the child to the next grade.
  2. Excludes all state and local assessment scores from children with disabilities from the state’s accountability system.

While some may believe that these provisions serve to protect children with disabilities, my experience has demonstrated otherwise.  If these bills pass, Louisiana will be able to graduate its children with disabilities after 12th grade, even though federal special education law clearly allows students with disabilities who need up to 3 more years of education to receive those critical additional years of education.

Furthermore, these bills will make it impossible for parents of children with disabilities to determine how well their school districts are educating their children.  Parents and advocates of children with disabilities fought long and hard for the federal law provision that requires schools to educate children with disabilities in the general curriculum.  These bills take Louisiana down the road of a separate and unequal education for children with disabilities.  This is particularly troubling because the vast majority of children with disabilities are of average or greater intelligence.  Why take those students out of the the accountability system unless Louisiana simply wants to wash its hands of its responsibility for them?

The National Center for Learning Disabilities published an excellent report about the low graduation rates of children with learning disabilities (who by definition have average or greater intelligence).  That report reveals that Louisiana has the 2nd worst graduation rate for such children in the nation (only Nevada is worse).

This graph shows how badly Louisiana’s students with disabilities are faring when it comes to graduating from high school.  As you can see it fares poorly in comparison to both national and other state data.  Indeed, currently more students with disabilities drop out of high school in Louisiana than graduate.

HS graduation rate graphIf these bills pass, Louisiana will look like it is graduating the most students with disabilities even though it is providing less education to them.  Parents and advocates of children with disabilities cannot allow this to happen. Indeed, my fear is that if it happens in Louisiana, your state could be next.  For that reason, national disability advocates should weigh in to oppose these problematic bills.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

States Need to Adopt Progressive School Discipline Laws

While individual school districts, such as San Francisco and Madison have moved forward in ridding themselves of antiquated zero tolerance school discipline policies, in order for our nation to move away from continuing reports of high rates of discipline overall and racial and disability disproportionality in that discipline, states must adopt progressive school discipline laws.  Both Colorado and Massachusetts have done so.

Colorado’s law went into effect in 2012 and now data is coming in which shows a marked decrease in school discipline as follows:

  • Expulsions down 25%
  • Suspensions down 10%
  • Law Enforcement referrals down 9%
  • Racial disparities decreased 3-7% (depending on the category)

Work on racial disparities still needs to be done in Colorado as law enforcement referrals went up for African-American students by 8% and for Native American students by 3% in the 2012-13 school year. The entire report analyzing the initial impact of this law can be found here.

Massachusetts passed Chapter 222 of its Acts to improve the education of students who are disciplined in 2012, and its State Board of Education just adopted regulations which will implement the law effective July 1, 2014 at 603 CMR 53.  Since Massachusetts’ law is not in effect yet, there is no data available for its impact, but its provisions are worth consideration for other states who want to end the funneling of students into the school to prison pipeline.

Some of the key provisions of the new Massachusetts law, as summarized by Massachusetts Advocates for Children, are:

  • Students suspended for 10 or fewer consecutive days, whether in or out of school, shall have an opportunity to make academic progress during the period of suspension, to make up assignments and earn credits missed, including but not limited to homework, quizzes, exams, papers and projects missed
  • Principals shall develop a school-wide education service plan for all students excluded for more than 10 consecutive school days, whether in or out of school. Principals shall ensure that these students have an opportunity to make academic progress during the period of exclusion, to make up assignments and earn credits missed, including but not limited to homework, quizzes, exams, papers and projects missed.
  • Education service plans may include, but are not limited to: tutoring, alternative placement, Saturday school, and online or distance learning. Schools shall provide the student and the parent or guardian with a list of alternative educational services. Upon selection of an alternative educational service by the student and parent or guardian, the school shall facilitate and verify enrollment in the service.
  • Instructional costs of alternative educational services may be eligible for state reimbursement.
  • If the student moves to another school district during the period of exclusion, the new district shall either admit the student or provide educational services in an education service plan.
  • For each school that excludes a significant number of students for more than 10 cumulative days in a school year, the commissioner shall investigate and, as appropriate, shall recommend models that incorporate intermediary steps prior to the use of exclusion.
  • School officials, when deciding the disciplinary consequences for a student, shall exercise discretion for non-serious offenses, consider ways to re-engage the student in the learning process, and avoid using expulsion as a consequence until other remedies and consequences have been employed.
  • The principal or designee shall notify the superintendent of an exclusion imposed on a student enrolled in kindergarten through grade 3 prior to such suspension taking effect, describing the alleged misconduct and reason for exclusion.
  • A student who has been excluded for more than 10 school days for a single infraction or for more than 10 school days cumulatively for multiple infractions in any school year shall have the right to appeal to the superintendent.
  • No student shall be excluded for a time period that exceeds 90 school days.

Massachusetts’ new law also addresses drop outs, as follows.

  • Schools shall have a pupil absence notification program, designed to notify a parent or guardian if the school has not received notification of an absence from the parent or guardian within 3 days of the absence. Schools shall have a policy of notifying the parent or guardian if the student has at least 5 days in which the student has missed 2 or more periods unexcused in a school year or has missed 5 or more school days unexcused in a school year. The principal or designee shall make a reasonable effort to meet with the parent or guardian who has 5 or more unexcused absences to develop action steps for student attendance.
  • No student who has not graduated from high school shall be considered to have permanently left public school unless the school administrator has sent notice within a period of 5 days from the student’s 10th consecutive absence to the student and parent or guardian in the primary language of the parent or guardian and English, initially offering at least 2 dates and times for an exit interview between the superintendent or designee and the student and parent or guardian. The exit interview shall be for the purpose of discussing the reasons for the student permanently leaving school and to consider alternative education or other placements. During the exit interview, the student shall be given information about the detrimental effects of early withdrawal from school, the benefits of earning a high school diploma and the alternative education programs and services available to the student.

Colorado and Massachusetts are leading the way to end the alarmingly high and discriminatory suspension rates occurring throughout the nation. Which states will follow suit to end their schools to prison pipelines?

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.