Delaware’s Special Education Plan To Prevent IEPs & Improve Smarter Balanced Scores

Ever since Delaware received the label of “needs intervention” with special education in June of 2014 from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the United States Department of Education, the Delaware Department of Education made every effort to do everything but tackle the number one problem of special education: making sure IEPs are implemented with fidelity.

Their solution to the problem: make sure children can read by 3rd grade so they can score proficient on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Every state in America has a checklist of items, dictated by the US DOE, that they are monitored on by OSEP.  One of them, Indicator 17, is a plan each state must come up with to improve special education outcomes.  The Exceptional Children Resources Group, the special education area at the Delaware DOE, chose the Delaware Early Literacy Initiative as their project for Indicator 17.

To say this is a confusing mess would be an understatement of epic proportions.  I find it even more troubling they would pick Kindergarten to 3rd Grade as their test subjects when they know children in those grades don’t receive basic special education funding.  The students who are considered intense or complex do, but the bulk of the students with disabilities in those grades fall under “Basic Special Education”.  As a result, some schools in Delaware are hesitant to grant IEPs for these students since they know the cost will fall on the district or charter school without any extra money from the state.

The Delaware DOE relies on Response to Intervention as a way of determining if a child needs special education services or not.  It is a faulty system, mandated by the feds, that can take years before a child is fully identified for special education.  As a result, these children become lost in a system while their neurological disabilities manifest.  An IEP, or Individualized Education Program, is designed for that particular student.  The IEP team, consisting of the school Special Education director, a Principal or Vice-Principal, the primary teachers, the school nurse, the school psychologist, and the parent or parents of the child.

Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves, of the website Make Special Education Work, recently wrote an article about why RTI isn’t working.  In the article, they wrote:

Even though RTI instruction may be high quality and research-based, can it meet your child’s unique needs? Meeting these needs through an individualized education program is your child’s right under IDEA.

While the Delaware DOE’s Early Literacy Initiative is certainly a long read, it is chock full of errors and omissions that fail to adequately address the unique and individual attention a child with disabilities truly needs.

 

What Happened To Executive Order #56 In Delaware?

Jack2016

On January 27th, Delaware Governor Jack Markell issued Executive Order #57 dealing with a Delaware Open Data Council.  In November, Executive Order #55 concerned a Delaware Cyber Security Council.  So where is Executive Order #56?  I can only imagine what it might have been.  I have some thoughts though.  Given the timing of the other two, I can easily picture an Executive Order dealing with high school juniors taking the SAT instead of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  This did happen, but not from the lips of Markell.  Perhaps an issue like that didn’t fall into the legal definition of an Executive Order.

Perhaps he was going to issue an Executive Order mandating all students take the state assessment and outlawed opt-out.  That wouldn’t have gone over too well with parents, schools, and legislators.  Maybe it was WEIC related.  I could foresee him issuing some type of Executive Order on that, after all, that is how the whole thing began to begin with.  What would have been really nice is if he issued an Executive Order mandating funding for basic special education for students in Kindergarten to 3rd Grade.

The likely reality is something could still come out with the number 56 on it.  This happened before during his Governorship, back in 2014.  I would expect to see this in the next couple weeks.  Our legislators have skipped around with bill numbers in the past as well.  What usually happens is something is pre-filed, but isn’t ready for full release.  It will be interesting to see what it is.  Any guesses?

This is all conjecture on my part.

Governor Markell’s FY2017 Education Budget Gives Funds For WEIC, SAIL, Autism, & Early Childhood Education But Stiffs Basic Spec. Education For K-3 Students

Provide greater support and accountability to Priority Schools and ensure the State and districts collaboratively intervene in failing schools.

 

Once again we have the Delaware Governor and his Department of Education labeling schools as “failing”.  This is based on standardized test scores.  It doesn’t take into account the high number of low-income/poverty students, students with disabilities, and the students who bear witness to horrible violence which has a severe impact on their ability to learn.

Governor Markell put in $6 million for the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan and $1 million for the SAIL (afterschool) program.  Charters have the recommended $500,000 for their “performance” fund which is the same as last year.  $2.5 million would go towards “school improvement” funds (priority schools, focus schools).  The Governor is recommending $4 million for “teacher compensation reform”.  He nixed nearly $10.7 million in base teacher increase pays, but allowed for $5.3 million to cover inflationary costs.  This is a $57 million dollar increase from the FY2016 budget for personnel costs so I am a bit confused on that one.

From what I can see, it looks like the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit at the DOE is losing some funds.  Secretary of Education Godowsky requested an increase from $1.8 million to $2.4 million, but Markell is recommending $1.75 million.  Godowsky also wanted to double the state funding for technology operations from $2.8 million to $5.7 million, but Markell is looking at $3.6 million in his budget.  SEED scholarships, which increase scholarships for Delaware students going to Community College, has a proposed $1.6 million increase.

What I do see is a $10 million increase in special needs programs.  Although it doesn’t explain the increase, I am assuming this is to cover the funding for Basic Special Education for Kindergarten to 3rd Grade students in Delaware.  Currently, there is no state funding for these students with disabilities.  This was one of the main recommendations from WEIC and is also pending legislation from State Rep. Kim Williams House Bill 30.  It looks like, upon inspection of Senate Bill 175, which breaks down everything in the budget, these funds are going towards early education.  Since the Race To The Top for Early Childhood Education ended, Markell is putting $11.35 million towards this.  So Basic Special Education funding doesn’t get funding, but we are going to pay for early childhood “intervention”.  I will have MUCH more to say about this one later.  Many other special education programs remain the same, including alternative settings.  Allocations for out-of-school placement, like Day Schools and Residential Treatment Centers looks the same as last year, even though costs for these programs have skyrocketed over the years.

On the Dept. of Health and Human Services budget, Markell is looking to increase funding for Autism by only $500,000.00, which is much less than the funds requested through Senate Bills 92 and 93.  Altogether, the fiscal notes for those two bills totaled $1.3 million.

Many of the increases from the previous year are based on inflationary measures.  In the below document, I’m not sure why the first page has all the black on it, but I will attempt to fix it later. Updated 4:58pm: I’m just going to put a picture of it in here…

DOEProposedBudget1stPage

And the detailed version, giving a full breakdown of where the money would go…

Delaware Special Education & Enrollment Numbers Released, Students With IEPs Up 9.5% This Year

The Delaware DOE released the September 30th student counts.  This helps to determine funding units for each school.  Special Education is determined as one of three categories: Basic for 4-12, Intensive or Complex.  There is no funding for Basic Special Education for students in Kindergarten to 3rd Grade, even though State Rep. Kim Williams attempted to get a bill passed during the first half of the 148th General Assembly.  I sincerely hope her House Bill 30 gets passed in 2016, because these kids need this!

For the state, the average percentage of the 19,870 special education students out of the total enrollment of 136,027 is 14.6%.  Traditional School Districts have 18,580 while Charters have 1,290.  To put this in perspective, 18% of students in Traditional School Districts are Special Education compared to Charters at 10.1%.  Had Kim Williams House Bill 30 passed, 2,467 students in basic special education in grades K-3 would have received the extra state funding they rightfully deserve.  Instead, schools get nothing for these students.  This is 12.4% of the special education population in Delaware that is being underserved by a funding issue.

Charter School enrollment grew by 12.7% with an increase of 1,591 students.  Last year, 13,521 Delaware students attended charters, this year it is 14,112.  Five new Delaware charters began this year, but two were shut down last year.  Some of the schools, with Delaware Met loud and center, are having special education issues.

Without further ado, let’s get to the numbers!  For each school district or charter, the first number is the special education percentage, followed by last year, then this year’s student count, followed by last year.

 

Traditional School Districts

Appoquinimink: 11.9%, last year 11.1%, Student Count: 10, 378, last year 9,870

Brandywine: 14.4%, last year 13.3%, Student Count: 10,580, last year 10,740

Caesar Rodney: 15.6%, last year 14.7%, Student Count: 7,221, last year 7,249

Cape Henlopen: 17.3%, last year 16.3%, Student Count: 5,170, last year 5,075

Capital: 18.9%, last year 17.4%, Student Count: 6,486, last year 6,665

Christina: 18.8%, last year 17.9%, Student Count: 15,553, last year 16,255

Colonial: 16.4%, last year 14.8%, Student Count: 9,763, last year 9,825

Delmar: 9.8%, last year 9.1%, Student Count: 1,347, last year 1,367

Indian River: 16.5%, last year 16.0%, Student Count: 10,171, last year 9,842

Lake Forest: 15.9%, last year 14.9%, Student Count: 3,794, last year 3,812

Laurel: 15.5%, last year 15.0%, Student Count: 2,221, last year 2,177

Milford: 14.1%, last year 13.6%, Student Count: 4,119, last year 4,197

New Castle County Vo-Tech: 12.0%, last year 12.4%, Student Count: 4,698, last year 4,629

Poly-Tech: 8.4%, last year 9.1%, Student Count: 1,194, last year 1,192

Red Clay Consolidated: 13.5%, last year 11.9%, Student Count: 16,094, last year 16,302

Seaford: 17.2%, last year 17.1%, Student Count: 3,473, last year 3,509

Smyrna: 15.3%, last year 14.4%, Student Count: 5,233, last year 5,279

Sussex Tech: 6.9%, last year 6.9%, Student Count: 1,444, last year 1,545

Woodbridge: 12.5%, last year 12.5%, Student Count: 2,466, last year 2,384

 

While a few districts stayed the same, it is obvious the bigger districts are actually rising with special education students at great rates.  Last year, the special education population was 17.2% for traditional school districts, but it is up to 18% this year, a 4.4% increase.  I’m not digging the vo-tech numbers and their downward trend.  The vo-tech percentages as a whole are actually lower than the charter average. 7,336 Delaware students are attending vo-techs, but their special education average is 10.4%, much lower than the traditional school districts.

Last year, traditional school districts had 104,388 students and this year they went slightly down to 103,335 for a loss of 1,053 students.  For the four Wilmington school districts, they all lost 1,132 students this year, with the majority of those belonging to Christina which lost 702 students.  The charters gained 1,591 students.  But did their special education numbers rise as well?

 

Charter Schools

* means they just opened this year

Academia Antonia Alonso: 2.2%, last Year .9%, Student Count: 320, last year 221

Academy of Dover: 9.5%, last year 11.7%, Student Count: 284, last year 290

Campus Community: 6.7%, last Year  8.3%, Student Count: 417, last year 410

Charter School of Wilmington: .5%, last year .2%, Student Count: 972, last year 972

Del. Academy of Public Safety & Security: 19.5%, last year 16.5%, Student Count: 303, last year 363

Delaware College Prep: 1.6%, last year 2.5%, Student Count: 186, last year 203

*Delaware Design Lab High School: 20.6%, Student Count: 233

*Delaware Met: 27.9%, Student Count: 215

Delaware Military Academy: 3.9%, last year 3.0%, Student Count: 564, last year 569

Early College High School: 10.5%, last year 2.3%, Student Count: 209, last year 129

EastSide Charter: 12.9%, last year 14.8%, Student Count: 443, last year 418

Family Foundations Academy: 8.6%, last year 5.3%, Student Count: 792, last year 811

*First State Military Academy: 19.3%, Student Count: 202

First State Montessori Academy: 7.4%, last year 5.4%, Student Count: 325, last year 280

*Freire Charter School: 6.4%, Student Count: 234

Gateway Lab School: 60.8%, last year 59.9%, Student Count: 212, last year 212

*Great Oaks: 16.0%, Student Count: 212

Kuumba Academy: 10.5%, last year 6.3%, Student Count: 644, last year 464

Las Americas Aspiras: 8.5%, last year 5.7%, Student Count: 639, last year 541

MOT Charter School: 6.8%, last year 6.1%, Student Count: 1,013, last year 869

Newark Charter School: 6.4%, last year 5.6%, Student Count: 2,140, last year 1,948

Odyssey Charter School: 4.9%, last year 4.4%, Student Count: 1,160, last year 933

Positive Outcomes: 62.7%, last year 65.9%, Student Count: 126, last year 126

Prestige Academy: 27.2%, last year 22.0%, Student Count: 224, last year 246

Providence Creek Academy: 5.1%, last year 5.1%, Student Count: 690, last year 688

Sussex Academy: 4.9%, last year 3.6%, Student Count: 594, last year 498

Thomas Edison: 7.0%, last year 7.1%, Student Count: 758, last year 745

 

Last year, the charters had special education populations in total of 8.6%.  This year they rose to 10.1%.  This is a rise of 14.85% in students with disabilities receiving IEPs at Delaware charter schools, but don’t forget, they also had an increased student count of 1,591 students this year.   They are up a bit from last year’s percentage of 12.7%, which is good.  But it seems like the bulk of new IEPs are going to some of the newer charter schools, like Delaware Met, Delaware Design Lab, Great Oaks and First State Military.  They are all well above the state average.  But the much vaunted “zero tolerance” charter stumbles at the gate with a very low 6.4%.  Charter School of Wilmington more than doubled their special education numbers.  But really, going from .2% to .5% is a joke.   Of concern are the two Dover charters who look like they are experiencing a downward trend in special education numbers.  That isn’t good, which accounts for Capital’s very large rise in percentage.  Down in Sussex Academy, it looks like the bulk of parents of special needs children chooses to send them to traditional school districts over Sussex Academy and Sussex Tech.  My big question though, if Providence Creek stayed the same, and Smyrna went up, where are the First State Military special education kids coming from?  This is a high school, so perhaps they are getting a lot of the Campus Community students that graduated from 8th grade there?  Or maybe more from the Middletown-Odessa area?  Who knows!

For student populations, the charters are definitely seeing upward movement, but one thing to remember is many of them are adding newer grades.  When a charter is approved, they can’t just open up every grade at once.  So it is a slow build.  For already established charters, you see them leveling out around the same numbers from year to year.  If I were Delaware College Prep and Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security, I would be very worried about those falling numbers.  Since the districts aren’t adding many numbers in your area, I would assume the bulk of your losses are going to other charters.  So they don’t just take from the traditionals, they also feed off each other.  It looks like the Middletown-Odessa area is having a huge population boom.  Between Appoquinimink and MOT Charter School’s rise, that is a total of nearly 750 new students between the two.  I would have expected Appoquinimink to decrease with the new MOT high school, but that isn’t the case at all.

It is obvious special education is on the rise in Delaware.  But are all schools implementing IEPs with fidelity?  I would find it very difficult to believe they are.  In this era of accountability and standardized test scores, it has to be very hard for the administration and teachers of any school to keep up with it all.  The DOE has so many demands going out to our schools, traditional and charter alike.  And in the next year or so, all of these IEPs will transition to “standards-based” IEPs if they haven’t already.  These are controversial, but many teachers swear they work better.  The jury is still out on that one.

In the meantime, email your state legislators today and let them know they need to support House Bill 30 no matter what the budget says.  The bill has been stuck in the Appropriations Committee for 9 months now.  2,467 Delaware students are not getting the supports they need.  The funds this would generate would give these students more teachers and paraprofessionals.  This is a crime this wasn’t included in this “needs-based” funding.  There is a crucial need, and Delaware isn’t meeting it.

To find out how each school did in the traditional school districts with special education percentages and student counts by grade, they are all in the below report.  Just hit the arrow on the bottom to get to the next page, or hit the full-screen button on the bottom right.

House Education Committee Minutes from 3/25/15: TFA, DOE, & Special Education Funding

The 3/25 Delaware House Education Committee meeting was a bit more subdued and calmer than previous ones, but it had a lot of activity going on.  Read the minutes from the meeting which discussed Senate Bill 31 and it’s amendment and the sunset period for Teach For America, House Bill 34 and the Delaware DOE’s timing on enforcing regulations, and House Bill 30 which would give basic special education funding for special needs students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.