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Friday, November 09, 2007

Special Education Audit Report

This article on Special Education in SPS appeared in today's Times.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

So we were willing to spend $116,000 to find out what we have known all along about our special education programs? You cannot convince me that these "audits" are going to do anything more than allows the new administration to "restructure" again.

As a long-time special education teacher in Seattle, I can only say that unless the district is willing to provide far more support than they currently do to general education teachers in whose classrooms special ed kids are mainstreamed, this will not work. Our regular education teachers are already dealing with enough issues.

Building a new structure should start with asking teachers exactly why it is difficult to serve some special education students well in the regular classroom. Listen to teachers, students and parents. Just like everyone else, they want to have options to choose from. Better yet, go sit in a high school language arts class with 32 students, 5 of whom have IEP's and read well below grade level, 4 of whom have 504's that give them "extra time" on assignments, 6 of whom are second language learners, 6 of whom have not passed the previous year's LA course and then tell that teacher he or she is not doing quite enough for the special ed kids.

Anonymous said...

The article said ...
...Chief Academic Officer Carla Santorno said reviewing special ed was one of her top priorities when she arrived in 2006. She immediately noticed the same structural problems the audit noted.

Anon said...So we were willing to spend $116,000 to find out what we have known all along about our special education programs? You cannot convince me that these "audits" are going to do anything more than allow the new administration to "restructure" again.

Isn't it amazing that the auditors so often reach the same conclusion that those who contract them for the work expect.

As a friend of mine said education research usually shows what needs to be shown so the researcher can get the next grant to do research.

Could someone please do an audit on the effect on student learning and teacher satisfaction that results from the SPS failure to follow their own policies D44 & D45 and RCW 28A 600.020

Depending on who was paying, it might show that following your own policies and state laws are a bad idea. Why else would SPS have ignored them for so long?

The never ending circus continues.
Yes it is time to restructure.
Now ladies and gentlemen direct from performances far and wide the SPS bring you Special Education restructuring in the center ring.

Anonymous said...

http://www.seattleschools.org/area/speced/UrbanCollaborativeReportFinal.pdf

Here's the report in full. As a parent who was interviewed, I believe the Urban Collaborative did an excellent job outlining the problems and illegal practices here in Seattle. I can't comment on the cost... but given that SPS spent $250,000 on mediators to hand hold a bunch of parents crying about school closures it doesn't seem that out of line.

I'm very disappointed with Special Ed teacher above. The report noted that many teachers have your outdated notion that general education was of no "value" to students with disabilities. It's obvious that special education self-containment as we have now is plagued by low expectations, no content curriculum, poor performance, and low graduation rates for students. More than 70% of these students have average or better IQ's. Doesn't it seem crazy to spend all that money on kids that actually are capable of learning... and get practically nothing in return?

Yes, students and parents want options. But the review noted that students with disabilites recieve the fewest choices and options. And yes, general educators need support. But currently, they're allowed to completely punt.

You might feel sorry for the general education teacher.... but you should feel a lot worse for the special education student who receives perpetual preschool for 20 years and then becomes a burden for life. Ever visit a self-contained classroom?

But, I too fear that the district will not adequately support the initiative.

Anonymous said...

http://www.seattleschools.org/area/speced/UrbanCollaborativeReportFinal.pdf

Anonymous said...

/UrbanCollaborativeReportFinal.pdf

sorry, the last part of the link is above.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Just a correction; they were consultants, not mediators, hired for closure and consolidation.

Anonymous said...

My child is in a third grade inclusion program. He was required to read at least 800 pages this quarter. It was a huge undertaking for him... but since that was the expectation, he read more than 1000 pages. I can guarantee you, if he were in a self-contained program, which is the default placement,.... that would NEVER have happened.... no matter how well meaning the teacher.

Anonymous said...

My kid goes to elementary school in Seattle. Each year I listen to discussions regarding the school budget. And each year the discussions invariably center around how to manage next year with fewer certificated staff. Two years ago they let the music teacher go. Last year they lost a half-time math specialist.

In 2001-02 Seattle School had 43,328 kids and 2,241 "Basic Education Funded Certificated Instructional Staff". Last year they had 43,310 kids and 1,995 staff (see OSPI Report 1159).

Perhaps special education students are better served in classes with regular education students. But placing these kids in an already over-stressed and overcrowded classroom will create more problems than it solves. You cannot successfully address the issue of special education without addressing the issue of regular education.

Anonymous said...

It happens to be the law. They are guaranteed a seat in general education because all special education students are general education students first. Further, they are actually funded that way by the state. Seattle just happens to strip them of their basic education funding the minute they walk in the door. Basic education may be underfunded, but you can't deny whole groups of students education in order to make up for it.

Anonymous said...

I feel like people are not really reading the first comment here (Anon at 8:56). Quote: "unless the district is willing to provide far more support than they currently do to general education teachers in whose classrooms special ed kids are mainstreamed, this will not work." I don't see this as a statement against having inclusion classrooms, but just an aknowlegement that the resources currently supporting these classrooms are insufficient.

Our elementary has autism inclusion, and I could not agree more with the quote above. Everyone at the school level is dedicated and working hard for the success of the kids with autism and their general ed classmates. The parent community seems supportive of the inclusion program. But at the same time class sizes have grown -- the whole school population has grown -- with no extra staff except the special ed teachers/aides. There are over 100 more children in the building than 6 years ago, with the same number of teachers, including gym, art, etc. How is this supposed to serve the population of students? --Lisa

Melissa Westbrook said...

Keep all of this in mind when you go to any community meetings on the assignment plan (or if you write to the Board or the Superintendent). The district has different school size ideas than they did in the last Facilities Master Plan; they may think it is okay to pack a school without providing additional resources. As all of this discussion shows, it makes it hard to deliver good academics with stretched resources.

Anonymous said...

Autism inclusion students do not
"add" more students to a classroom. If the program wasn't in that building, the district would assign other students to those same seats. Some of these students would have disabilities too... but the school would get absolutely NO support for these other kids. Arguably, the current autism programs are well supported and add staff that everyone can use. (Typically, the aids help everyone.) The problem will happen if the district opens the floodgates, and then doesn't provide resource. And that is the key.

Anonymous said...

So who are all these kids with disabilities? Reading this blog, you'd think they were "somebody else", and please get me away from them! The reality is, special education is where the district puts anybody it doesn't want to educate. Mostly minority, mostly poor. Seattle is about 8 or 9% black... special education is 30 to 40% black. So, you can always put those "likely to fail the WASL" types in special ed... and never have to worry again. If there's any notion that there's some hard and fast "disability" test required to get into special ed, that is absolutely incorrect. It's pretty clear the acheivement gap won't be solved if this isn't fixed. I think the district is beginning to realize that.

Anonymous said...

Clarification about our school with the autism inclusion program and the "added students." This is two phenomena happening at the same time. The school has grown by over 100 kids AND has encompassed an autism inclusion program of 16 kids. The inclusion program comes with a staff, and they do help with more than just their own program -- as playground monitors, etc. as well as in the classrooms.

Still, I'm bothered by the simultaneous opening of classroom seats to more kids with special needs and increasing class size. Due to both the philosophy of inclusion and funding issues, there is not always an aide available to every general ed teacher. So while the aides are a great help, they do not effectively reduce class size. --Lisa

Anonymous said...

I am a special ed teacher in the district, and I love the findings of the report. I am suspicious of how the district may be able to carry out some of the recommendations with the added support that will be needed. I am relatively new to the district, but what I hear from veteran SPS special ed teachers is that there has been a trend toward more responsibilities/less support. Right now, the case load limit for a resource room teacher at the elementary level is 22, and both full-time resource teachers I have worked with had caseloads of 35-40. One had one aide, one had none.

One thing that was not covered in the report was hiring/retention practices for special ed. teachers. I wonder if they looked at that. More positions seem to be filled at this point in the year this year, but there have been 14+ open special ed teacher positions throughout the year each year over the last few years, maybe more. I have a master's degree in special ed., 6 successful years of experience, and I am in a decent position now, but I had one terrible position at SPS that I left for another job in private practice, and another job at an SPS school that I had to leave because I was being told to break the law by my principal. I was not supported by the special ed dept. except to be told that I was right, and would be welcome to apply for any other open positions in the district.

And for the past few months, the only professional development classes offered by SPS special ed are SECURE classes (behavior de-escalation).

There is a lot more going on than what was covered by the report. I hope there is a huge overhaul. I am also an SPS parent with a preschooler with likely special needs, and I am poised to homeschool if need be.

So I agree with the first anonymous poster (and unfortunately, I too feel the need to post anonymously - sorry!). There are many dedicated and talented special ed teachers in the district who have been burning the candle at multiple ends, or just throwing their hands up in despair, and my hat's off to those who have been here for a long time. I am operating on a year-to-year basis.......

-Special ed teacher

Anonymous said...

The SPS has quite a record for poorly and inadequately implementing programs.

I was involved with the development of a 7th & 8th grade school (not in the SPS) that had a very effective inclusion model. This was a brand new middle school and the inclusion model planning was a part of the original design. There are few if any existing schools that will have the time and resources to plan this properly.

The SPS is renown for poor planning and hasty implementations.
Hopefully Dr. G-J can do better.

There should be great concern about class size and quality of educational outcomes for all. The district spends in excess of $7.2 million annually on academic coaches for teachers and the Pathways High School program. That is approximately 100 teachers worth of funding, as $7.2 million = about 100+ teachers.

The high school pathways program now in its second year appears to be the opposite of how the district now wishes to move. Seems about average in the SPS - design a program and then give up after a relatively short time.

Currently there is concern in Mathematics and other subjects about the difficulty in determining which students are instructionally impaired (from inadequate materials and instruction) and which students have learning disabilities (qualify for special services).

Hopefully Dr. G-J can implement some mainstreaming properly. Given this districts on going failure to even implement their own promotion policies k-8 (D44.00 & D45.00) or select an appropriate math curriculum (one that will not produce even more instructionally disabled learners) I have my doubts about special ed improvement.

Look for development time and when this program will be actually beginning. Perhaps that will be a key to whether this is about creating lasting change that can sustain improvement or another poorly planned change that will need to be abandoned.

Anonymous said...

A key point in the finding was "natural proportions". The finding is that students shouldn't be clustered at certain schools and create huge imbalances. But this IS exactly what Seattle does. Also, schools aren't supposed to cluster kids based on disability label (again, exactly what Seattle does). Both practices are actually illegal. So, if the district were going to implement the recommendation, there wouldn't be any "autism inclusion" program. There wouldn't be 16 kids like that in 1 particular building. Instead, there would be around 8 - 10 % of the kids labelled with some sort of disability: some created by poor curriculums and home factors, some mild, and some moderate. Severely and behaviorly disabled will still needs self-contained programs.

Anonymous said...

In a large elementary school, currently there are usually 2 resource room teachers. EG. 44 students with generic disabilities (some may even have autism). Anon at 1:02 seems to be irked that there are 16 kids that have autism, but OK with the 44 in the resource room who may also have autism. I don't really understand it. In Bellevue, all the students would be served by the resource room in general education. It seems to me that simply "knowing" that some students have a label is problematic for anon 1:02. Some schools like Gatewood elementary use ALL their special education funding for 1 purpose, reduce class size. They have an EBD program there, but since the classes are so small, they can serve these students effectively in the smaller general ed classes. They do have to actually serve the kids though, else they will lose them and the money attached to them.

Anonymous said...

I don't know the most effective way to get involved - I am starting by attending this meeting: Special Ed PTSA has scheduled a meeting for Wednesday, December 12th, at 7:00 pm in Stevens Elementary. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the report's findings. All PTSA members are invited to attend this meeting and to voice their thoughts and questions. Glenda Morgan, who will be heading the implementation of the review's recommendations, will be attending. Our son is in a self-contained autism kindergarten classroom. I notice the report tends to clump all types and levels of abilities into "Special Education" and doesn't discuss much the specifics behind implementing a successful integration model - even if everyone agrees "inclusion" (which there isn't a hard legal definition of) is what's best. Since I have a child with autism that's what I'm focusing on. I hope anyone else who has time and energy can join the Special Ed PTSA and come to the meeting.

Anonymous said...

I would like to find out how the PTSA meeting went on Dec. 12. As a teacher in this district, I unfortunately didn't know about this group (PTSA) in time to attend. Do teachers attend the PTSA meetings? Is there a timeline for convening a committee to focus on the results of the Special Ed Report and to move forth? Plans are already being made for next years program offerings. Who will be facilitating this follow-up process? One of the administrators referred to in the report? Hopefully there will be a climate of openness and comfort sharing in that setting. Thanks.