Word Choice Is Important!

MADISON, WI - FEBRUARY 16:  Maureen Look-Ainsw...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

My post yesterday was entitled- "Are teachers Mad?"

Apparently some people who read the article were hoping that I had written about teachers being insane.  I'm sorry if my word choice was a bit iffy.  I was going for the "are teachers angry" angle, but those words just don"t have enough zip.

In any event , I'm sorry if the title was misleading.  The point remains that I suspect that teachers are very angry.  Since NCLB passed, they feel as though they are walking around with bulls-eyes on their backs. 

The Wisconsin spectacle involves more than just teachers, but I fear that years of a lack of respect coupled with the new emphasis on cutting their benefits may be a bad formula.

So are teachers angry?  To coin yet another phrase, "you betcha."

What do you folks think?

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Are Teachers Mad?

A teacher writing on a blackboard.Image via Wikipedia

The Weirdness in Wisconsin (doesn't quite have the rhythm of the Thrila in Manila, does it?) brings a number of significant public policy questions to the forefront? (There are a number of difficult to resist punchlines here- I'll resist for the most part, but here is an example- Why did the Senators flee to Illinois when they could have chosen Minnesota, Iowa or even Canada?)

One story in the news caught my eye though.  Although all kinds of public employees would be affected by the changes proposed in Wisconsin, the story noted that teachers were particularly angry.

I hate to say I told you so (OK well that's not true), but I have been saying since the early days of no child's behind left that teachers are going to get angry.  One of the central principles of NCLB and of education reform in general is that teachers, more specifically public school teachers, stink

Don't get me wrong.  I readily admit that there are some bad teachers.  I'm a product of the Chicago public schools, and I could testify under oath that I had some awful teachers.  I could also testify that I had some great teachers. To conclude that all of the woes of our education system should be blamed on teachers is so simplistic, it has got to be wrong.  

For example, to conclude that a teacher in a high poverty area is bad because her kids scores on standardized tests are way lower that those of the teacher in a high income suburb does not show that the first teacher defies logic.  Yet that seems to be one of the core principles of education reform.  

So teachers are angry.  Are we really surprised?  In this climate, those who decide to become teachers must really love kids.  Good teachers are heroes and I suggest that we give them a little more respect.

Any thoughts?
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Special Education Budget Blues

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If you understand the federal government budget process, you could probably be qualified as an expert witness.  The budget process is a minefield of procedural maneuvers and confusing beyond description.In a nutshell, the Congress passed a continuing resolution funding the government, including special education monies, through March 4, 2011.  The Congress must now pass another continuing resolution until the end of the fiscal year, September 30th.  The Council for Exceptional Children has a good summary of the budget process here.

President Obama presented a proposed budget which would have increased special education funding by $250 million directly as well as other increases for general education.  The president's budget proposal is the first step in the convoluted process.  The full budget proposal is available as well as other related resources at the previous link.

Congressional Republicans countered with a budget bill that would have reduced IDEA spending by $557 Million.  Here is another summary.

The full House of Representatives amended the bill and restored the $557 Million cut.  This bill would fund 2011 special education at the same level as 2010.  The severe cuts to general education remain in this bill.  Here is a summary by Disability Scoop.

But the process is not done yet.  There is much more to come!  The U S Senate now gets its chance.  Look for some fireworks here.  

If you have an opinion on special education funding, and I would guess that almost all of the readers of this blog likely do, please call your Senators and advocate for your position.  Now would be a good time!

This process is making me very nervous.  I hope that special education does not become another thing that this country is divided about.  Don't we have enough of those already?

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Index to Procedural Safeguards The Series

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A reader suggested that we provide an index to our recent series on procedural safeguards under the special education law.  It seemed like a good idea so here goes. 

I'm glad that you enjoyed the series. Procedural Safeguards are at the heart of the special education laws.

Here is the index:

October 18, 2010      Part I     Introduction
October 27               Part II    Notice of Procedural Safeguards
November 9             Part III   Parental Consent
November 16           Part IV   Independent Educational Evaluation
November 24           Part V    Prior Written Notice
November 29           Part VI   Dispute Resolution
December 13           Part VII  Facilitated IEPs
December 22           Part VIII Mediation
December 28           Part IX   State Complaint
January 4, 2011        Part X    Resolution Sessions
January 10               Part XI   Due Process Hearings
January 19              Part XII  Procedural Violations
January 26              Part XIII Attorney's Fees
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Rosa's Law: A Great Story

WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 08:  U.S. President Barac...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

There was a big development in special education law last October. The Congress passed and the President signed Rosa's Law.  The law removes the offensive word "mentally retarded" from federal legislation and replaces it with "intellectual disability."  The changes include the statute that underlie special education law, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Rehabilitation Act.  Here is the text of the law.  Here are President Obama's remarks when he signed the bill into law.

Rosa Marcellino, for whom the law was named, was on hand for the signing ceremony.  Rosa worked with her parents and siblings to get the offensive word removed from the laws first in Maryland and then in the United States Congress. Here is a report on the law by Disability Scoop. 

This is a big development in the law.  thanks to our friend Mark for suggesting this post.
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More Honors for This Blog

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We are gratified by the response to this blog.  We have won some impressive honors. In 2008 we won first place in the education blog category of the Bloggers Choice Awards. We have won the prestigious Blog of the Day award.  We are also listed on the blogrolls of a number of highly respected blogs.  And we are found on some amazing tweet lists and facebook pages.  

Recently we were listed on another list of top blogs.  This time we were honored to be among the Fifty Best Blogs For special Needs Teachers.  Here is a link.  We are again overwhelmed by the great reaction we continue to receive.

But as always the very best reward we receive for this blog is the impressive array of special education stakeholders who subscribe to this blog and  who read our posts.  We are pleased that you find the resources that we share useful.  Thank you!
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Middle Ground on FAPE: Why the Statutory Preamble Isn't Enough

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Many readers have reacted to my call for a higher standard for FAPE by saying that the law already provides a potential maximizing standard.  They refer to the Congressional findings in IDEA.

One legal point here.  The courts rarely put any importance in the Congressional findings.  They are largely considered symbolic efforts by our elected representatives.  Why many of you have asked does Congress bother to stuff laws with nice sounding language that really doesn't do any good?  I suggest that you ask your congressman.  If you get a good answer, I'd love to hear it. Remember the old saw - there are two things that nobody such ever see being made: sausage and legislation.  I apologize in advance to those who feel that this is an insult to sausage.

The following is a quote from IDEA regarding the Congressional findings.  Tell me what you think,       

(c) Findings.--Congress finds the following:
(1) Disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to participate in or contribute to society. Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.
(2) Before the date of enactment of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (Public Law 94-142), the educational needs of millions of children with disabilities were not being fully met because--
(A) the children did not receive appropriate educational services;
(B) the children were excluded entirely from the public school system and from being educated with their peers;
(C) undiagnosed disabilities prevented the children from having a successful educational experience; or
(D) a lack of adequate resources within the public school system forced families to find services outside the public school system.
(3) Since the enactment and implementation of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, this title has been successful in ensuring children with disabilities and the families of such children access to a free appropriate public education and in improving educational results for children with disabilities.
(4) However, the implementation of this title has been impeded by low expectations, and an insufficient focus on applying replicable research on proven methods of teaching and learning for children with disabilities.
(5) Almost 30 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by--
(A) having high expectations for such children and ensuring their access to the general education curriculum in the regular classroom, to the maximum extent possible, in order to--
(i) meet developmental goals and, to the maximum extent possible, the challenging expectations that have been established for all children; and
(ii) be prepared to lead productive and independent adult lives, to the maximum extent possible;
(B) strengthening the role and responsibility of parents and ensuring that families of such children have meaningful opportunities to participate in the education of their children at school and at home;
(C) coordinating this title with other local, educational service agency, State, and Federal school improvement efforts, including improvement efforts under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, in order to ensure that such children benefit from such efforts and that special education can become a service for such children rather than a place where such children are sent;
(D) providing appropriate special education and related services, and aids and supports in the regular classroom, to such children, whenever appropriate;
(E) supporting high-quality, intensive preservice preparation and professional development for all personnel who work with children with disabilities in order to ensure that such personnel have the skills and knowledge necessary to improve the academic achievement and functional performance of children with disabilities, including the use of scientifically based instructional practices, to the maximum extent possible;
(F) providing incentives for whole-school approaches, scientifically based early reading programs, positive behavioral interventions and supports, and early intervening services to reduce the need to label children as disabled in order to address the learning and behavioral needs of such children;
(G) focusing resources on teaching and learning while reducing paperwork and requirements that do not assist in improving educational results; and
(H) supporting the development and use of technology, including assistive technology devices and assistive technology services, to maximize accessibility for children with disabilities.
(6) While States, local educational agencies, and educational service agencies are primarily responsible for providing an education for all children with disabilities, it is in the national interest that the Federal Government have a supporting role in assisting State and local efforts to educate children with disabilities in order to improve results for such children and to ensure equal protection of the law.
(7) A more equitable allocation of resources is essential for the Federal Government to meet its responsibility to provide an equal educational opportunity for all individuals.
(8) Parents and schools should be given expanded opportunities to resolve their disagreements in positive and constructive ways.
(9) Teachers, schools, local educational agencies, and States should be relieved of irrelevant and unnecessary paperwork burdens that do not lead to improved educational outcomes.
(A) The Federal Government must be responsive to the growing needs of an increasingly diverse society.
(B) America's ethnic profile is rapidly changing. In 2000, 1 of every 3 persons in the United States was a member of a minority group or was limited English proficient.
(C) Minority children comprise an increasing percentage of public school students.
(D) With such changing demographics, recruitment efforts for special education personnel should focus on increasing the participation of minorities in the teaching profession in order to provide appropriate role models with sufficient knowledge to address the special education needs of these students.
(A) The limited English proficient population is the fastest growing in our Nation, and the growth is occurring in many parts of our Nation.
(B) Studies have documented apparent discrepancies in the levels of referral and placement of limited English proficient children in special education.
(C) Such discrepancies pose a special challenge for special education in the referral of, assessment of, and provision of services for, our Nation's students from non- English language backgrounds.
(A) Greater efforts are needed to prevent the intensification of problems connected with mislabeling and high dropout rates among minority children with disabilities.
(B) More minority children continue to be served in special education than would be expected from the percentage of minority students in the general school population.
(C) African-American children are identified as having mental retardation and emotional disturbance at rates greater than their White counterparts.
(D) In the 1998-1999 school year, African-American children represented just 14.8 percent of the population aged 6 through 21, but comprised 20.2 percent of all children with disabilities.
(E) Studies have found that schools with predominately White students and teachers have placed disproportionately high numbers of their minority students into special education.
(A) As the number of minority students in special education increases, the number of minority teachers and related services personnel produced in colleges and universities continues to decrease.
(B) The opportunity for full participation by minority individuals, minority organizations, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities in awards for grants and contracts, boards of organizations receiving assistance under this title, peer review panels, and training of professionals in the area of special education is essential to obtain greater success in the education of minority children with disabilities.
(14) As the graduation rates for children with disabilities continue to climb, providing effective transition services to promote successful post-school employment or education is an important measure of accountability for children with disabilities. 

IDEA §601(c)
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Big Reaction to My Call for a Middle Ground on FAPE Standard

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In a post last week, I suggested that maybe there could be a FAPE standard that does not encompass either extreme. Since 1982, which is a long time when you are dealing with new law, when the U S Supreme Court decided Rowley, the FAPE standard has been that a school district must create an IEP for a child with a disability that is reasonably calculated to confer some educational benefit.  The court described this as the basic floor of opportunity. This case is the cornerstone of special education law.

The lower courts that decided Rowley before it reached the supremes ruled, based in part on explicit language in the legislative history of IDEA's predecessor, the EHA. that the standard was that a school district is required to maximize the student's potential.  Parents often argue that this should be the standard.  Many of us feel that our schools should maximize the potential of all children.  We are not willing, however, to pay the level of property taxes necessary to support such an education system.

Last week I suggested that maybe there can be a middle ground.  We received many thoughtful and heartfelt comments on the blog, numerous emails, and reactions on our related facebook special education law group.   I believe that this may be a debate worth having- especially with IDEA overdue for an overhaul.

As I have argued here before, special education law is new law.  New law is whatever did not come over on the boat from England. The cycle of change is a part of the deal: amendments to the law, new federal regs, new state regs, some hearing officer decisions, some court rulings.  Just when we all are pretty comfortable, it's time for reauthorization and amending the law once again.  The cycle of change continues.

So change is not foreign to this area of the law.  In fact we embrace it.  So why not reconsider the FAPE standard?  

This change would have to come from Congress.  One District Court held that the FAPE standard was outdated, after a very long delay the decision was reversed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Congress will be eventually reauthorizing IDEA, it is overdue, and amendments will be considered.

So what do you think?  Please let me know.

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