Task Force Looking At Special Education Costs In Delaware Is Very Dangerous Ground

House Concurrent Resolution #34, introduced today by State Rep. Kevin Hensley and Senator Nicole Poore would look at the costs of special education in Delaware.  Another task force, with the usual representation.  A bunch of people sitting around a table, half of which won’t have a clue what they have jumped into.  The Delaware Way.  But here is the catch with this one: most of the spending going on with special education is based on federal mandate based on IDEA.

I have a hunch what some of the impetus for this is.  For years, districts have been complaining about McAndrews Law Firm.  Most of these cases wind up in settlements and the districts are crying foul on this.  But, if the districts and charters were doing the right thing to begin with, none of these cases would get to that point.  McAndrews won’t even take a case unless it has merit.  They won’t take a case based on a notice of meeting not going out once or twice.

Good luck with this task force trying to figure out WHY special education placements are increasing.  It doesn’t really matter why.  What matters is that they are and our General Assembly better find out how to wrap their arms around it instead of ducking the issues.  I can say most of the kids who lived in my neighborhood that were home one summer day in 2006 were subjected to nasty fumes coming from an accident at the old Reichhold Chemical Plant in Cheswold.  They all have disabilities of one sort or another.  My son is one of them.  We live in a polluted state.  I highly doubt this task force would look at things like that.

Are all special education placements valid?  I don’t know.  I know Response to Intervention is horrible.  Standardized testing should never be a measurement of whether a kid needs special education.  Autism rates have been soaring for over a decade now.  I just hope the Delaware DOE doesn’t put a gag order on district teachers and administrators like they did with the IEP Task Force.  They told districts and charters NOT to have anyone give public comment at those meetings.

Still, not one peep about giving Basic Special Education costs for kids in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  We don’t need another task force to figure out that no-brainer.  If they really want to care, how about they allow our Auditor of Accounts office to FULLY audit every single penny in special education along with ALL of education.  We know the money isn’t always going where it needs to.  But Delaware loves their task forces to give some crappy illusion of people wanting to do the right thing.  How about just following the law to begin with?

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Governor Carney’s Letter About Basic Special Education Funding For K-3 Is Wishy Washy At Best

I received a letter from Governor Carney in my email today.  So did over 900 other Delaware citizens.  Two months ago, a push was made to send letters to Governor Carney concerning House Substitute 1 for House Bill 12.  This is the pending legislation which would provide Basic Special Education Funding for students with disabilities in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  The state provides extra special education funding for all other students with disabilities who have an IEP, so why not these students who are just getting their start in elementary education?

For years, I have been advocating for this funding.  So has Rep. Kim Williams.  This is the second go-around with this legislation.  House Bill 30, from the 148th General Assembly, sat around in the Appropriations Committee from early 2015 until June 30th, 2016 and died.  I have yet to meet anyone who thinks this bill is a bad idea.  I understand we have a deficit Governor Carney, but the purpose of state funding should have a top priority of those who need it the most.  These students fit that criteria.  Response to Intervention does not take care of these students’ needs, nor as it designed to.  Please don’t perpetuate this myth.  You did not include it in your proposed budget and I am calling foul on that oversight.  I pray our elected officials in the General Assembly have the common sense to put children first when they approve the budget for Fiscal Year 2018.  They are the future of Delaware.

The letter was dated March 7th, 2017, but I just received it today.  I won’t bicker about that, but it is noteworthy.  What I will mention is Governor Carney’s refusal to commit to this funding.  I just don’t get it.  It is a no-brainer and everyone knows it.  Who is lobbying against this bill behind the scenes?

Capital Drinks The DOE/Rodel/Markell Kool-Aid As They Join BRINC & Announce “Strategies”

As Capital joins the BRINC initiative in Delaware, they are moving forward with their Strategic Plans which will benefit corporations more than students.  It is like they copied the playbook of the Delaware Dept. of Education, Rodel, and Governor Markell and called it a plan.

At their April board meeting, the Capital School District unanimously voted to apply to join the BRINC Consortium.  BRINC is a personalized/blended learning group of districts in Delaware that involves spending money, potentially compromising student data privacy, and forcing teachers into a certain way of doing things.  While the Rodel/DOE loving teachers jump all over this, some are opposed to it.  But that doesn’t stop districts from convincing their boards to vote on joining.  I gave public comment to the Capital Board of Education at their April meeting with my severe concerns with student data privacy and the loopholes that exist in state and federal law that allows student data to get out.  But no one listens to the blogger when it comes to making important education decisions.  Or consults with the parents of students in the district to let them know they will be changing how students are instructed going forward using lesson plans from teachers they aren’t familiar with.  Despite my reservations, the Capital School District joined BRINC when they accepted an invitation to join the conglomerate of blended learning school districts in Delaware.  WBOC reached out to Superintendent Dr. Dan Shelton who said:

Dr. Dan Shelton, superintendent of Capital School District, said he is looking forward to using technology as a resource for teacher collaboration and sharing quality lesson plans.

For a district that is in the middle of a Strategic Plan that was supposed to be about increasing public stakeholder input for the district, this one sure fell under the radar.  Without the ability for the public to comment on it, for parents to see what BRINC is, and their board passed the action item with no public announcement ahead of time and just a board agenda, Capital has shown once again they don’t really want public input, just the illusion of it.  It’s starting to look like the ability of this board to provide the much-needed pushback against the DOE and corporate driven education “best practices” has faded with the departure of Kay Sass as the Board President last year.  They had a bright moment when they wrote the Delaware General Assembly to support the House Bill 50 override AFTER they already voted on it, but aside from that, I see less transparency.  I believe they think they are being more transparent by announcing things with their Strategic Plan, but I have no doubt in my mind most of the outcomes for this were already decided on a long time ago.  In my eyes, transparency is announcing and soliciting community feedback before an item like BRINC is approved, not announcing it after the fact.

In the below press release from Capital, they announce what their strategies will be coming out of their Strategic Plan.  While it all looks great to read, I have to wonder when they are going to announce their Early Learning Academy at Dover High School.  But there are things in there that give me equal agita.  Items italicized are in the report, while the red-penned comments are my own.

Students, Parents, Staff and Members of the community share through survey data a more positive reflection of our communication.

Survey data you say?  Wasn’t that a very controversial insertion into House Bill 399 (the teacher evaluation bill), just last week?

Students report on surveys a more positive experience.

More surveys.  From students.  What are they going to judge?  Administrators, the district, teachers?  More information is needed.  Far too much potential for bias resulting in discipline against teachers that may not even be verifiable.

Student grades, attendance and standardized test scores improve.

Grades and attendance I like.  Standardized test scores…no.  Just no.  For the Capital Board to approve this and go along with it is a far cry from where they were a year ago.  In fact, I would say it is a 180 degree shift.

Student behavior referrals decrease

HA!  This is a district that has no consistency with this practice whatsoever.  It was also notated at their April board meeting that Booker T. Washington Elementary School, under the leadership of Dr. Dale Brown, had NO discipline referrals for this school year up to that date.  Not one student was sent to the Principal’s office.  The board questioned this and I later asked Dr. Shelton about this who informed me this was correct reporting from the school.

10-15 year Facility Plan is accepted by community of stakeholders.

This is what I like to call a future referendum for capital costs!

The board gives unlimited freedom to the implementation team as long as staff complies with regulations and board policies and the approved process for defining and implementing strategic priority projects are met.

Big mistake! Very big mistake.  A board needs to carefully watch things like this.  If they give up their authority to stop this, aside from budget constraints or those that conflict with district policy, they are handing the reins over without any rationale behind that decision.  This is just more erosion of local control from a local district.  We will see more of this than we already have in our local school districts in Delaware, mark my words.

My biggest question surrounds who is actually on the implementation team which the press release, and to the best of my knowledge, and the Capital website don’t specify.

https://www.scribd.com/document/317550144/Press-Release-CSD-Strategies-With-Attachments

To give some background on their Strategic Plan, we have to go back to a year ago.

Prior Superintendent Dr. Michael Thomas retired last year.  As well, Assistant Superintendent Sandra Spangler and Director of Human Resources David Vaughn left as well.  The Board of Education hired Dr. Dan Shelton last July.  Shelton immediately embarked on his Strategic Plan.  Shelton and Demosophia owner Andy Hegedus already knew each other.  As former employees of Christina, they have connections all over the Newark area.  Hegedus wrote his own biography on the website for Demosophia.  He proudly lists himself as a Broad Fellow, which also has such distinguished members like Joey Wise, the former Superintendent of Christina, and Lillian Lowery, also a former Christina Superintendent and the former Delaware and Maryland Secretary of Education.  Hegedus proudly boasts about participating in a plan to change the Christina schools as far back as 2006 in this document.

The subject of a new Strategic Plan for Capital first came up at the October 3rd Board Retreat.  The only people in attendance at this Board Retreat were the five board members, Dr. Shelton, and Assistant Superintendent Sylvia Henderson.  On their Board Docs, it clearly states in Item #2: “Capital School District Strategic Plan”.  The board went into open session at 8am to discuss the Strategic Plan and then went into executive session the rest of the day to discuss contracts and personnel evaluations.  At their next board meeting on 10/21/15, the minutes reflect the Retreat was seven and a half hours. In the same meeting, there is no action item to move forward with the contract for the Strategic Plan at all in the minutes.  Under Delaware state law, if any state entity wants to obtain a vendor in an open bidding process, they must submit a Request for Proposal (RFP).  Capital gave a very small window for their RFP.  The public notice of the RFP went out on 10/30/15 and proposals were due by 11/13/15.  The RFP seems to be custom designed for a company like Demosophia.

An article in the Dover Post from 1/6/16 went over the thinking behind the Strategic Plan:

“I don’t want our direction moving forward to be Dan Shelton’s direction. It needs to be the community’s direction” he said. “We’re going to use our teachers, our administrators, and members of the community who want to volunteer for different portions of this plan.”

However, this is a direct contradiction with a part of the Superintendent Update from the Board’s 10/21/15 meeting:

Reviewed long term facility plan which will be incorporated into Strategic Planning Process

If the Strategic Plan was truly represented by the community of the district, how could they have a long term facility plan that would be “incorporated” into the Strategic Plan?

In fact, we don’t hear about the Strategic Plan in the board minutes for Capital again until their 1/20/16 meeting when the board unanimously approves the $45,000 contract awarded to Demosophia.  For a five year strategic plan, they sure didn’t leave a lot of time for companies to submit a bid.  Almost as if it was already decided who would win the contract.  However, they did have three top-ranked firms apply for the bid with a total of six interviews according to the audio recording from  the 1/20/16 meeting.  Board member John Martin asked how Demosophia was chosen as the vendor.  Shelton explained they scored 301 on the rubric with the two other firms placing at 294 and 232 points.  Board member Sean Christiansen said he was a member of the interview committee which included district staff, teachers, and members of the community.  He said Demosophia means “wisdom of the people” which is exactly what they were looking for at their 10/3 Board Retreat.

In the Board Docs for this meeting, there is no contract listed as a document.  In fact, the contract with Demosophia can not be found anywhere.  The Awarded Contracts for the State of Delaware website only shows the award letter issued to Demosophia.

Hegedus doesn’t even talk about the Strategic Plan with the public until the 2/17/16 board meeting.  So the board and Shelton knew about Demosophia’s involvement with the plan since at least 11/13/16 but this isn’t revealed until the 1/20/16 meeting.  Two and a half months after the Board Retreat…

The forums were held at the end of February and the beginning of March with the one-on-one interviews taking place in March.  The Capital Board was supposed to have a workshop on 4/6/16 to discuss how the Co-Labs would work, but it was abruptly canceled and never rescheduled.  The Co-Labs began in April.  In fact, Capital has been extremely transparent with the activities surrounding the Strategic Plan on their website.

In the Co-Labs, participants state their ideas and it is all thrown into a computer system which will generate the results based on the input.  It actually records exactly what these “stakeholders” put forth.  It then spews out a picture graph (as seen in the above document) of the most talked about ideas and forms a conclusion for what the main issue is.  This already happened in April.

Hegedus’ company, Demosophia lists other companies as their “world-wide affiliates” based on “Structured Democratic Dialogue”.  All of these companies participate in programs to “consciously design humanity’s future”.  These affiliates, including companies such as Institutes for 21st Century Agoras, CWA Ltd. ( a link to their website doesn’t even work), and Future Worlds Center.  These are all think tanks that want to guide a conversation toward pre-determined goals.

What are the goals of Dr. Dan Shelton’s ideal Capital School District?  He wants to start a Pre-School Academy at Dover High School.  Yes, you heard it right.  All of the forums involving the public and this came up how much?  Not much at all.  So how does a Strategic Plan spit out this big idea?  You have to look beyond the illusion crafted by the public forums.  The true meat of this agenda lies in the Co-Labs and who was on the committee.  85% of the members were paid employees of the district.  One board member, one student, one member of the district’s CBOC, two outside parents and one Dover High School  PTO vice-president.  However, in this document, it paints a very different picture of the representation on the committee.  It overlaps many district employees as parents of students at certain schools.  This is the trap.

Many task forces, committees, and advisory groups are stacked in the favor of those who want a desired outcome in Delaware.  Other current or recent groups in Delaware include the Assessment Inventory Committee, the Vision Coalition’s Student Success 2025, and the Education Funding Improvement Committee.   In fact, when the IEP Task Force was brought about by Senate Concurrent Resolution #63 in June, 2014 there were no outside parents on the group at first.  I successfully rounded up people to contact their legislators to include that crucial representation on that task force.  Their input was invaluable to the Task Force and helped to shape the final legislation brought about by Senate Bill #33 last year.

Make no mistake, this Strategic Plan is entirely Dan Shelton’s idea.  It is comparable to many initiatives going on in Delaware right now.  Governor Markell earmarked $11 million for early childhood programs in the state, but the final budget only had $9 million given to the initiative.  Since the federal Race To The Top for pre-schools ended last year, the state is on the hook.  The goal of these early childhood programs is to reduce the number of students who receive special education services in later years.  I heard as much at a Senate Education Committee meeting this winter.  That should not be a goal taking up $9 million state funding when things like the WEIC redistricting plan or basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade failed to be included in the final budget.  But I firmly believe Capital wants to strike gold on this while the funding is there.  By becoming the first district in Delaware to have universal pre-K services, they will increase attendance in the district which is their true objective.  The district lost a ton of students the past few years.  I don’t blame them for that, but the way in which they are going about it is not a long-term strategy if they don’t improve upon the basic issues in the district.

The district, like many others in Delaware, seem to have an overreliance on Response to Intervention as a cure-all for what ails the district.  RtI is a failed experiment that has long since outlived its original purpose of helping children to read better.  It is used as a substitute for special education services when nothing a school does or says can reduce a manifestation of a child’s neurological disability if they are not utilizing even the most basic of special education services.  And if they start this at a pre-school level district-wide, I fear for the outcomes of these children.  It’s almost like the district read the Every Student Succeeds Act, took the very worst parts inserted in there at the last minute by lobbyists for the corporate education reform machine, and came up with this Strategic Plan to implement it through the smoke and mirrors of community input.  In looking at the picture graphs, I see very little in regards to actual improvement of the district’s special education efforts.  The words special education are not even in there.  I see a lot mentioned about the “whole child” and “community centers”.  Many citizens in the district already feel our schools should not become all-day day-care centers.  But this plan seems to call for that, using outside organizations to improve the educational outcome of students.  While the district would be correct in stating they have a high population of students coming from low-income, poverty, and violence-prone communities or homes, they should not put themselves in the unsustainable position of becoming the go-to source for what affects children out of school.  Wrap-around services should be directed from parents, not a school.  If a parent is unable to provide those services for their child, there are already existing mechanisms by which a school district can help get those services for a child in the event of neglect.  But our schools should not become a Band-Aid for students.  Not to mention the already existing fears by many of state control over children and loopholes in student data privacy laws.

Full disclosure: I ran for the Capital School Board this year and I lost.  I bear no ill will towards the district or the board for that outcome.  In fact, I’m glad I lost and I certainly want to wish Dr. Chanda Jackson the best of luck as she is sworn in at a special board meeting tonight at their district office at 7pm.  I’m quite sure the district will say BRINC is the best thing for student outcomes and will come up with some fancy way of saying so.  Of that I have no doubt.  What I doubt is the ability of the board to question these things anymore and just goes along with whatever Dr. Shelton wants.  But the board lost a key player when former President Kay Sass resigned last year.  I thought Matt Lindell was the voice of sanity on this board, but I fear I misjudged him.  And who will pay for all this?  The citizens of the district, that’s who.  And as the Christina School District will be knee-deep in the Demosophia think-tank way of doing things with their own contract in the fall, Capital will be ahead of the game showing the residents of Dover what the eventual price tag for these plans are.

 

 

 

US DOE Guidance Letter About Response To Intervention & Child Find Shows Disturbing Trend

The United States Department of Education sent a “guidance letter” to state local education agencies (school districts) regarding Response to Intervention (RTI) and Child Find.  The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) sent the letter on April 29th.  It reminds pre-schools that they are responsible for child find.  This means the local school district is responsible for paying for a special education evaluation.  A pre-school can’t use RTI if a special education evaluation is needed prior to the RTI process.  This is all great except for that one tiny, itty-bitty, little thing: Who pays for it?

The US DOE had their toddler Race to the Top come out a year after the regular one and it gave states tons of money to make great pre-schools.  The funding for this runs out on June 30th of this year.  Which is why Delaware, Governor Jack Markell requested over 11 million bucks to keep these programs going.  But the big problem with this is school districts aren’t allocated more money to pay for all these special education evaluations.  So guess where that money comes from?  The local funds a school district gets from school taxes.  From YOUR property taxes.  Guess how much the charters pay for those pre-school evaluations?  Not one cent.  In fact, Delaware is a state where there is no basic special education funding from the state share of funds for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade at any public school.  But that’s okay, they can afford it?  Right?  Yeah, let’s not go down that road.

If so many Delaware schools lack the ability to give special education services to kids in Kindergarten to 3rd grade because they just so happen to not get any extra funds for that, how is that going to work with pre-schools?  This letter, on the surface, looks great.  Big government is looking out for the kids with disabilities.  But who holds them accountable when they have NEVER given the full amount of funding to states under IDEA?  They give what, 10-13%, and they want to be the enforcer of all things special education?  What a crock!

Response to Intervention is the biggest joke of them all.  It is a crutch for Delaware schools to NOT give special education in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  What they are doing is messing up kids big time.  Whether it is a school district or a charter, and unless they are listed in the “intensive” or “complex” category, you are better off letting your basic special education child sit in a pile of needles cause that’s what it’s like for them.  Imagine having a bad infection and someone says “let’s try this technique that will take a while to fight it”.  Will the infection get better?  Nope.  It’s going to rot and fester.  That’s what happens to the minds of children with neurological disabilities who don’t get the right special education.  But it’s alright, because Mary Ann Mieczkowski, the Director of the Exceptional Children Resources Group at the Delaware DOE says Delaware’s due process system is more than fair.  Yeah, I can see how that scares the hell out of Delaware schools into doing the right thing…

The US DOE are a bunch of hypocrites.  They endorse things like social impact bonds which is when a company “invests” in an education setting (like a pre-school) for a certain goal.  In Utah, that went swimmingly when Goldman Sachs had a long-running program they “invested” in.  The goal: only 1% of 200 kids would need long-term special education services in regular school after they put in the “necessary” programs at the pre-school to “help” these kids.  I guess they didn’t get the memo that disabilities are NEUROLOGICAL which is why programs like this are complete and utter crap.  In Delaware, the average for students with disabilities in public schools hovers around 13.5 to 15%.  But with genius banks getting their hooks in, only 1% would!  Goldman Sachs got a return on their “investment” because of the “success” to the tune of $277,000.  I don’t see OSEP sending financial institutions these letters…

To read the latest “guidance” (which essentially means do as we say or we are going to make you sorry) letter from US DOE/OSEP, read below.

Demand Funding For Delaware K-3 Basic Special Education Students

The Delaware Special Education nightmare has gone on long enough.  Years ago, Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed a bill to give extra funding for special education students.  With categories such as basic, complex and intensive, this unit-based funding model allots funds based on the number of special education categories there are in each grade at each school.  For basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade there is no difference in the funding than their peers in regular education in those grades.  Last year, State Rep. Kim Williams introduced House Bill 30 which would give this funding to students in those grades.  It was released from the House Education Committee soon after but it has sat in the House Appropriations Committee ever since.  Meanwhile, our Governor, in his latest proposed budget for FY2017 has failed once again to give that funding.

The result of this is hundreds of Delaware students not getting proper special education services, required by Federal law.  This is what happens: a parent requests an IEP.  Many schools in Delaware deny the IEP in those grades since they know they won’t get the funding for it unless it is a higher category.  If they do approve it, they have to use the miniscule federal IDEA-B funding they get and the rest comes from their local funding.  In many cases, services written into the IEP such as occupational therapy or counseling are not given to students because of this obscene lack of funding.

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission is misguided if they truly believe any funding for their redistricting plan will give funding for students in K-3 who are considered basic special education.  The Governor did not put it in the budget.  But they still present to public bodies that these students will get these funds.  And every time I call them out on it, someone tells me “we’re working on it”.  If it was truly a priority, it would be there.  No questions asked.  I’ve been telling them this since day one.  The Wilmington advocates can talk about how many generations of students have lost because of no services.  How about the millennia of people with disabilities who have always been cast aside with education funding as if they aren’t even worth it.  Federal law requires the funding to be available to be provided for students with disabilities.  If you want to talk about discrimination and mistreatment, please remember that.  And also remember many African-American students also have disabilities, statewide.

Our Delaware Department of Education and Governor Markell want to provide $18 million in funding to early education for the next fiscal year.  One of the goals of this, according to them, is to reduce the amount of students needing special education services in their first few years of school.  On the surface, this looks honorable, but be assured that it is not.  What Markell and the DOE have failed to recognize (or know completely) is the fact that disabilities are neurologically based.  By giving them the extra support in those early years and then putting them into Kindergarten without the funding to sustain those services, these children will suffer.  It is not right to put the bulk of this funding on the local education agencies.  By not giving this funding, these children have suffered.  No amount of Response to Intervention is going to cure a disability.  I firmly believe it is a tactic by which these special needs children are purposely denied this funding.

These students don’t do well on state assessments.  Markell and the DOE have always known this.  State assessments are not designed to make students proficient.  They lose their meaning if everyone does well.  So the powers that be want these students to do bad on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  I have heard horror stories this year from teachers who say it takes students with disabilities five times longer to do sections of the test than their regular peers.  And they still won’t reach this mythological proficiency.  This was something that could only be carefully planned.  It is why the Governor gave NO allocations for it in any budget since he signed the needs-based funding bill.  It would interfere with his Education Inc. testing buddies and their huge hedge fund returns.  It is also far easier to give these students a career path towards menial jobs than to give them the funding they deserve so they could perhaps have a shot at success.  You may fool people all the time, but you have NEVER fooled me.  One only needs to look at Delaware Online Checkbook to see this strategy of yours has hurt many students and families over the past four years.

So please sign the change.org petition: https://www.change.org/p/peter-schwartzkopf-pass-house-bill-30-in-delaware-giving-basic-special-education-funding-to-students-in-k-3 and demand our General Assembly pass House Bill 30.   The time is NOW for this bill to move forward.  We can no longer sit by and watch while the most vulnerable to students suffer needlessly.  Tonight at the Red Clay board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Merv Daugherty told the board and the audience to support HB30.  Their board passed a resolution supporting it.  All Delaware school boards need to do the same.  I asked the Capital Board of Education months ago to do the same thing but they have not addressed this at all.

redclayhb30resolution

 

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.

 

New Hampshire’s Senate Bill 503 Would Allow “Pay For Success” Social Impact Bonds In Pre-Schools

New Hampshire has a current bill which would allow investors to finance pre-schools in an effort to prevent special education remediation.  This “pay for success” program is actually Social Impact Bonds.  This latest craze by investors in education is extremely dangerous and should not even be a consideration anywhere in a child’s education.  It is a system that has the potential to be widely abused in order for outside corporations to make money off student outcomes.

New Hampshire’s Senate Bill 503 has already gone through their Senate and will be heard in their House Education Committee on Tuesday, April 5th at 10am in the New Hampshire General Court.

I have to wonder what state legislators across the country are even thinking anymore.  They are selling out public education to corporations and investors.  New Hampshire couldn’t even give this an accurate fiscal note because it is, when you break it down, a bet.  A bet that had disastrous consequences in Utah and Chicago Public Schools according to education blogger Fred Klonsky.  I wrote about how the legislative apparatus for Social Impact Bonds already happened in Delaware and just today, the Delaware Republican Senate caucus revealed a Poverty Agenda Plan that includes Social Impact Bonds as one of their steps to eliminate poverty.  While it is not known if this plan would include educational “pay for success” programs, I know not all of the GOP Senators in Delaware would even want this kind of program in education.

Most of the Social Impact Bond activities in education would seem to be a violation of federal IDEA special education law.  Corporations and special education are like oil and water.  The former has no reason to be involved at all while the latter is a necessary step towards success for students with disabilities.  Response to Intervention is not a replacement for special education, but far too many states seem to think it is.  And now big business wants to bet that it is.  Response to Intervention (RTI) is based on reading skills and ignores the whole gamut of other areas a disability could come into play.  The only reason states want kids reading by 3rd grade is so they can take the state assessment and let the data gravy train speed up.  Both RTI and Social Impact Bonds are anti-special education measures.  By denying child find, as dictated by IDEA, it is setting up a child with disabilities to fail at an early age.  Both RTI and “Pay for Success” programs in education should be abolished immediately.  The fact the US Government is promoting these kinds of programs is even more troubling.

States with passed Social Impact Bond legislation or have “Pay For Success” programs already in place are Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio (Cuyahoga County), Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Washington D.C. and Wisconsin.  The United States government has several “Pay for Success” and “Social Innovation Funds” projects going on, including a part written into the Every Student Succeeds Act. (source: PayForSuccess.org)

Earlier this month, a second attempt for “Pay For Success” legislation died in Florida.  Other states that explored them but never implemented them are Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey (a bill was vetoed by Governor Chris Christie), Rhode Island, and Vermont.

If I were a parent of a toddler or pre-schooler in New Hampshire, I would voice my concerns with their House Education Committee immediately!  This is absolutely the most disgusting thing I have ever heard of in education and makes all that came before pale in comparison.

Delaware’s Moral Imperative: My Email To The JFC, DOE, State Board, WEIC, & Governor Markell

SpecialEducation

Today, the Delaware Joint Finance Committee is meeting with the Delaware Department of Education to discuss proposed changes in the DOE’s budget for Fiscal Year 2017.  This hearing will allow the DOE to answer questions about the funding increases they are requesting.  One of the hot issues is the $6 million allocated in Governor Markell’s budget for the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan for the students of Wilmington.  I had very strong thoughts about this last weekend and a response from a member of WEIC prompted another article on the matter.

At the heart of this is the basic special education funding for Delaware students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  Currently, students in Delaware do not receive any additional funding if they qualify as basic special education in K-3.  Within a month of starting this blog, I wrote about this eye of the hurricane in Delaware special education and broke down the categories for the funding for these services:

Basic Special Education units are determined by eligibility of special education for students in grades 4-12 and they must not be considered intensive or complex. Students in this group receive one unit for every 8.4 students.

Intensive units are based on a need of a moderate level of instruction. This can be for any student with an IEP from Pre-Kindergarten to 12th grade. As well, there must be supports for health, behavior or personal issues. The student must have an adult facilitating these supports with a ratio of 1:3 to 1:8 for most of their education. The student must be in the mid-range for use of assistive technology and also need support in the areas of a school nurse, an interpreter, an occupational therapist, or other health services. These students would also qualify for extended year services (ESY), and may have to utilize services outside of the school such as homebound instruction or hospital services. On their IEP, these students may have accommodations outside the norm, which should include adaptations to curriculum to best support their needs. Schools here get one unit for every 6 students.

Complex Special Education units are determined by severe situations that require a student to adult ratio of 1:1 or 1:2. Most autistic children should fall into this category. They must receive a high level of instructional, behavioral, personal and health supports. Assistive technology needs to be utilized at an increased level for these students. ESY is a must, as well as a high level of homebound instruction or hospital services, interpreters, occupational therapists, or services from the school nurse. Unit funding is provided as one unit for every 2.6 students.

Today, I emailed all the members of the Delaware Joint Finance Committee, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky, Maryann Mieczkowski (the director of the Exceptional Children’s Resources Group at the DOE), Delaware Controller General Michael Morton, Elizabeth Lewis (oversees education funding with the Delaware Office of Management and Budget), State Rep. Kim Williams (the sponsor of House Bill 30 which would give this funding), State Board of Education President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, Executive Director of the State Board Donna Johnson, and the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s core leadership team: Dr. Tony Allen, Dr. Dan Rich, Kenny Rivera, and Elizabeth Lockman. I addressed the need for basic special education funding for ALL Delaware students in K-3:

From: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
To:
Smith Melanie G (LegHall) <melanie.g.smith@state.de.us>; McDowell Harris (LegHall) <harris.mcdowell@state.de.us>; Bushweller Brian <brian.bushweller@state.de.us>; Ennis Bruce <bruce.ennis@state.de.us>; Peterson Karen (LegHall) <karen.peterson@state.de.us>; Cloutier Catherine <catherine.cloutier@state.de.us>; Lawson Dave (LegHall) <dave.lawson@state.de.us>; Carson William (LegHall) <william.carson@state.de.us>; Heffernan Debra (LegHall) <debra.heffernan@state.de.us>; Johnson JJ <jj.johnson@state.de.us>; Miro Joseph <joseph.miro@state.de.us>; Kenton Harvey (LegHall) <harvey.kenton@state.de.us>; “jack.markell@state.de.us” <jack.markell@state.de.us>; “michael.morton@state.de.us” <michael.morton@state.de.us>; “elizabeth.lewis@state.de.us” <elizabeth.lewis@state.de.us>; Williams Kimberly (LegHall) <kimberly.williams@state.de.us>; Tony Allen <tony.allen@bankofamerica.com>; Daniel Rich <drich@udel.edu>; Kenny Rivera <kenneth.rivera@redclay.k12.de.us>; Elizabeth Lockman <tizlock@gmail.com>; Godowsky Steven (K12) <steven.godowsky@doe.k12.de.us>; Mieczkowski MaryAnn <maryann.mieczkowski@doe.k12.de.us>; Johnson Donna R. <donna.johnson@doe.k12.de.us>; Gray Teri <teri.gray@sbe.k12.de.us>
Sent:
Wednesday, February 17, 2016 11:20 AM
Subject:
Basic Special Education Funding for Kindergarten to 3rd Grade students in Delaware

Good morning all,

Some of you may know me, but for those who don’t, I am a concerned parent of a special needs child in Delaware.  He was denied an Individualized Education Program in 3rd grade at a Delaware charter school even though he fully qualified for it. 

As a result of this event, I set out to look into Delaware education and all facets surrounding it, which led to the creation of my blog, Exceptional Delaware.  One of the first things I discovered was that students who qualify for basic special education do not receive funding for this in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  Students in 4th to 12th grade do.  As a result of this, many students in these grades are denied IEPs all over our state.  Many times this results in special education lawsuits filed against school districts and charter schools.  I firmly believe this also sets up these children with disabilities for failure.  By not getting the funding they are entitled to at a state level, this results in the local education agency bearing the brunt of these costs.  The federal IDEA funding has never been at the level that it was originally intended for. 

There are current plans in the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan for Wilmington students to grant Red Clay Consolidated School District the basic special education funds for students in K-3 in FY 2017.  This would also include the current Christina students enrolled in Wilmington schools should the redistricting plan pass the State Board of Education and the 148th General Assembly.  In FY2018, this funding would be provided to the entire Christina School District, and in FY2019 to Colonial, Brandywine, and the Wilmington charter schools.  While the plan doesn’t specifically give a timeframe for the rest of the state, the commission does urge our state to provide these funds as soon as possible for all of Delaware.

I have grave issues with this as all students in this category should be entitled to these funds.  While I am vehemently against the use of standardized test scores to determine school accountability levels, by the very nature of these plans it would set up some schools to do better than others in Delaware.  In the Delaware Department of Education’s goals submitted to the US Department of Education for their ESEA Flexibility waiver, the DOE had growth goals for Delaware.  For students with disabilities, they want them to go from 19% proficiency from FY 2015 to 59% proficiency in FY 2021.  By giving certain schools and districts this funding, it sets up a disproportionate funding mechanism that benefits some over others.

There are other concerns with this as well.  If a 1st grade student should happen to transfer from Red Clay to Indian River, would that basic special education funding follow them? 

As a parent of a special needs child, I find this lack of funding for students who are at the foundation of their education experience to be highly disturbing.  The current budget plans call for a huge influx of funding for early education, in the hopes of preventing rising costs for special education.  What I find to be not included in this conversation is the fact that disabilities in children are neurological.  I’m not saying they can’t be accommodated for a better educational outcome, but why would we give all this money to early education centers and then leave these students out to dry when they are brought into elementary school?  It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.  While I certainly appreciate the needs of Wilmington students, I feel it is funding that should be available for all students in Delaware.  Special education is a federal mandate if a student qualifies.  By not providing the necessary state funding, we are failing these children.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard of districts not providing services, even with an approved IEP.  While no school or district will ever come out and say it, it is because of a lack of funding in most cases. 

For any student who has gone through special education in Delaware at this age, the results are very cumbersome and painful for the student and their parents or guardians.  Parents are forced to fight a system where, in many cases, they are branded as a difficulty.  Students are disciplined based on behaviors that are neurologically based, and because they don’t have an IEP, it results in severe problems for the student as they grow.  Many students who are denied IEPs and don’t receive these services can and do fall into the complex and intensive special education categories later on because these services were not provided at an earlier age.  This happened with my own child.

I urge the Joint Finance Committee to provide the basic special education funding for ALL K-3 students in Delaware.  This isn’t really an option, but a basic civil rights issue that separates Delaware from many other states.  It is their federal right to receive a “Free Appropriate Public Education”.  By forcing districts and charters to sign an IEP indicating they will make sure the district has adequate funding to provide special education services is not proportionate to the state funding provided for students in all grades.  As well, by providing this funding for some but not all, it could certainly put the state into a precarious legal position should parents collectively band together to address this issue.

Currently, House Bill 30, sponsored by State Rep. Kim Williams is in the Appropriations Committee of the General Assembly where it has been since March 26th of last year.  I would urge the JFC to allow the funding for this legislation to be provided in the Delaware FY 2017 budget so these children can get the services Delaware has a moral imperative to provide.

If anyone has any questions or concerns surround this issue, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt

I sent this out a couple of hours ago and have not received a response from anyone.  Which is fine, but I sincerely hope it will be brought up in their discussions today with the Department of Education.  If it is, I am fairly certain the DOE will bring up what is known as Response to Intervention (RTI) and how this is a very useful tool for schools to identify students who may qualify for special education services.  This is one of the biggest fallacies in American education and does not cover many areas that could qualify a child for special education.  It is a failed experiment that, at best, causes delays of several years before a child can get an IEP and the full special education services they need.  Special education calls for the least restrictive environment.  Why would the State of Delaware restrict the funding these children need to receive FAPE and the least restrictive environment?  This is our moral imperative in Delaware.

 
 

Delaware’s Fatal Special Education Flaw: Using Response To Intervention

Delaware is considered to be horrible for special education by many around the country.  The reason for this could be due to Response To Intervention.

Under federal law, Child Find is an obligation for all public schools in the United States of America.  Wrightslaw describes Child Find as the following:

Child Find requires all school districts to identify, locate and evaluate all children with disabilities, regardless of the severity of their disabilities. This obligation to identify all children who may need special education services exists even if the school is not providing special education services to the child.

The US Department of Education came up with something called Response To Intervention (RTI).  This process does not work effectively at all for potential students with disabilities.  In Delaware, the whole RTI process takes 24 weeks until a suggestion is made, if needed, for an evaluation for special education services.  That is over six months because it is 24 weeks of school time.  While that may not seem like a long time for some, for the student with disabilities it can be a lifetime.  The large problem with RTI is many schools use it based on how a student is doing academically.  Some children with disabilities are very smart but the neurological wiring may not allow them to focus or have motivation to do well in school.  If the classroom is out of control, this magnifies for the student with disabilities.  Many of these students are perceived as “behavior problems” but if they do well academically, it is difficult for them to get an Individualized Education Program (IEP).  Add in other factors, such as low-income or poverty status, bullying, and violence in their environment, and this is a cauldron of problems boiling over.

Title 14 in Delaware is very specific about what Response to Intervention is:

Under federal law, Free, Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)  is mandatory for students with an IEP.  Using the Wrightslaw definition:

In a nutshell, FAPE is an individualized educational program that is designed to meet the child’s unique needs and from which the child receives educational benefit, and prepares them for further education, employment, and independent living.

The problem is getting students to this point.  At the Delaware Charter School Accountability Committee meeting today, two charters brought up the RTI process in how they identify potential special education students.  But the problems mount because of the time process.  If schools are using RTI to  identify students for special education, it is a minimum of six months before the RTI system reaches the point where special education evaluation can happen in Delaware.  Schools should be looking at other factors.  I’m not saying RTI is bad.  It can be very helpful for instruction.  But using this as a determining factor for special education services can cause a student to lose a whole year.  Then add the timeframes for the evaluation, getting parent permission, convening an initial IEP meeting, and then getting to the point of actually drafting the IEP, it could very well be a whole school year.

While I don’t think any school should be over evaluating students for IEPs for additional funding, the far greater danger is in under evaluating.  If the RTI process works for academic support, but the child does not have FAPE, it is not addressing the true needs of the student.  A student with disabilities can be brilliant, but if their neurological disability gets in the way of that, it impacts their education.  This is why I oppose many of the tests schools use to determine eligibility for special education.  A simple IQ test is not going to give you answers.  Many students with disabilities suffer from large classroom sizes without enough support.  For a sensory mind, this is like a torture chamber for these children.  But get them in a small group with RTI, where the focus is more centralized to their needs, and we have a much different story.  But RTI is not an all-day event.  So when the student is back in the general curriculum environment, that’s when teachers see the true natures of disabilities manifest themselves.  If a student appears to be smart, but doesn’t seem to be in control of their actions, this is the time to get an evaluation.  Yes, they are expensive for schools.  But how much time is spent on the RTI process that may or may not get this student results until another school year in most cases?  RTI as a system costs schools tons of money, time, staffing and resources.

Until Delaware schools truly get this, both charter and district alike, we will continue to bang our heads against the wall and say “We don’t know how to fix this.”  Add to this the even more burdensome “standards-based” IEPs which are rolling out this year, and we have a special education nightmare on our hands.  I’ve said this a million times: intelligence is not the sole factor for special education.  It could be as simple as a student having sensory toys, or additional transition time, or even training for staff at a more in-depth level.  There are so many things that can be done with special education that are not financially problematic, but common sense.  But expecting a special needs child to perform at the same levels as their peers when the DOE and schools have not done their essential legwork in truly identifying these students is a lesson in futility.  They may never perform at that level, but until schools do the right thing with special education and stop doing all this time-wasting nonsense, we will never know.  And let me reiterate: when I say performing at the same level as their peers, I do NOT mean standardized testing.  All the standardized tests actually take away from the uniqueness of the individual child and says “We want all of you to be the same.”  It is a demeaning and humiliating experience for all involved when we use a test to measure success.