Special Education Editorial Strikes the Right Note

Ramona Hattendorf, who has done a wide expanse of public education advocacy, writes a great op-ed at the Times on Special Education.  She is very specific in what is needed.  It's a piece that needs wide reach so I hope you send it along.

I think the topic on Special Education is finally rising to the top of the district's radar (and it needs to stay there).

I am sorry to see Sped parents knocking heads - it plays into the hands of those who don't want to fully serve these students.  I believe this issue needs parents to continue to stand up to a district that is seemingly confused about its role and responsibility in this area.


Anonymous said…
And yet, we have a workforce that is allowed to opt out of teaching and accommodating students with disabilities inclusively and a downtown establishment that uses sped as a capacities stopgap. Universal Design cannot happen in these circumstances.

Okay, where would Sped parents place the blame?

On teachers with lack of supports for not trying as hard as you perceive they should?

Or the system that seems in chaos to the point they cannot even let parents know of a major data breach months after the fact?
Anonymous said…
Lack of supports usually isn't the issue. Special ed programs are incredibly well staffed. Teachers have to place a value on teaching all students. They have to actually make use of the resources available to them, and design their instruction with that in mind. Currently, students with disabilities are mostly an afterthought, and as Observer points out, the worst offenders can simply opt out all together. Chaos also isn't the problem. Sure, there was a data breach. I was never informed as a parent, but that really had no effect on students or teachers. The system isn't chaotic, it is specifically designed to keep special ed students out of the mainstream of education, even at great cost. It costs a lot to have tiny programs crammed into far flung crannies, and to continue to provide bus and cab fare from anywhere to anywhere. The main place to blame special ed problems, us the leadership who steadfastly refuses to prioritize the teaching and inclusion of students with disabilities. Not surprising that the teachers follow that cue.

Sped Parents
Anonymous said…
"Lack of supports usually isn't the issue" Well staffed? Define "Well" I'm guessing by well staffed you mean students with pervasive issues having 1-2 unskilled IAs assigned to them?

I have yet to come across ONE person in SpEd who understands the neuroscience of dyslexia the most common LD there is. SPS has twice turned down help from one of the most world renown scientist in dyslexia research.
Why would not want the help when it's offered at no cost?

If SPS spent as much time and effort following the law instead of faking it there would be some chance for these students, but I don't see that happening without multiple law suits.


Anonymous said…
Melissa, as SPED PARENT points out what is happening is by design. When I read emails from district administrators and teachers those emails contents show deliberate actions and intentions, not chaos.

This is a conversation between school teachers at an IBX high school in the north end.

Here's a sample ", I fear for our future with him at this school".

How about this " I'm so sorry for you ,hold your breath he has a 504!"

response- "I'm so sick of 504s, I'm calling the union to complain".

Reply- "Yes do it, it's not fair we have too many normal students already".

This story is repeated across the district.

So you tell me what the problem is when teacher who are paid professional adults think like this.

Pointing Fingers
Pointing Fingers, those are some smoking guns.

I honestly thought a lot of the issue was about not getting it right but apparently it may be NOT wanting to get it right.

Send me those e-mails and I'll send them onto the Board (or you do it) but someone up the food chain should see them.
Lori said…
Pointing Fingers' comment at 1124am should be redacted. There's enough information there to identify the student in question or to at least make people think they know who the student is. I don't think that's right. You can make the point about what teachers say "behind close doors" in email without calling out the specific school and specific program and the student's gender.
Anonymous said…
Sorry I didnt think of that. I redacted the identifiable information, but leaving the school information is important, because this school has chronic SpEd / 504 issues over the past 3 years and we know Parents, teachers, administrators and board members read this blog and I want them to know what is going on. Sometimes public embarrassment works wonders.

Melissa, as SPED PARENT points out what is happening is by design. When I read emails from district administrators and teachers those emails contents show deliberate actions and intentions, not chaos.

This is a conversation between school teachers at an IBX high school in the north end.

Here's a sample ", I fear for our future with XXX at this school".

How about this " I'm so sorry for you ,hold your breath XXX has a 504!"

response- "I'm so sick of 504s, I'm calling the union to complain".

Reply- "Yes do it, it's not fair we have too many normal students already".

This story is repeated across the district.

So you tell me what the problem is when teacher who are paid professional adults think like this.

Pointing Fingers
Anonymous said…
I agree with a previous poster. SPS seems to have little interest in research-based solutions or in expertise beyond that already embedded in current personnel.

As someone who taught LAP reading for a couple of years, I realized how many non-readers (below the 24th percentile) were dyslexics for whom the District had absolutely no answers. Hamlin-Robinson, a school that exists to teach dyslexic and other language-disordered children, is currently located in a Seattle school (Meany?) and I don't know if SPS even now tries to partner with them. Dyslexics need targeted, early intervention. Group learning isn't going to help them.

As for district sped teachers, I don't have much faith in them. Ours has received several complaints but continues to be a favorite of the principal. In my twenty years as a teacher, I've witnessed very few effective sped teachers. They just don't have the background or the expertise needed for a wide range of disorders. I understand they have a lot of paperwork but who doesn't in this age of data.

I know there are some sped teachers that are excellent. I've worked with one of them.

Having said that, I can't imagine a harder area in which to teach. A teacher's ability to teach all kids in a regular classroom is stretched to its limit. Adding in sped kids doesn't make sense to me - depending, of course, on the sped need. Sped teachers have fewer kids with greater more varied needs.

So here I've blamed them for not being very good at what they do but also admitted that what they do requires an awful lot of expertise and experience.

Finally, in the article I just read, it seems the emphasis should be on project-based, collaborative learning. I think I'm reading the author correctly. Learning groups which increase the social interaction for all kids may increase learning. It sounds good. I'm sort of project-oriented as a teacher. But my experience tells me that it's harder to accomplish than the writer understands. Group learning is not for all kids. Many children prefer and respond better to independent learning. Enforcing the true collaborative aspect of group learning isn't easy. More often than not, a few kids take charge. If Universal Design has a true organizational aspect that really guarantees that all kids participate and learn, I will be the first in line for training.

Again, we have visions that we think will work but reality generates problems and obstacles not seen in the rosy pictures often painted by parents and their demands/wishes for their kids.

Harsh? I hope not. Teaching is hard, folks. And it's getting harder considering the layers of paperwork and high expectations we have for all kids today. To top it off, our new math curriculum, Math In Focus, is all pencil-paper. That's where the math is I guess.

So . . .
what's the answer?
Anonymous said…
I just caught up with the exchange between teachers above regarding 504s. 504s give lip-service to problems. They don't solve problems.

The teachers are being honest. How many ways can they stretch themselves? If Universal Design is an answer then let's get an advocacy group going and get it done. But asking teachers to spread themselves thinner and thinner trying to cover the extraordinary demands placed on them today is foolhardy. No one can do it. Scapegoating is easy but it doesn't solve problems.

Educators are there to teach. Our school has just revisited our mission and vision. It includes everything but the kitchen sink. It is simply lip service to the desires of every parent. But until we stop thinking of our schools as everything to everyone and return to the real mandate of schools which is to educate our children, we will continue to fall short to too many promises.

And I really don't know where our union is when it comes to educational issues. We, too, should be part of the solution - one that narrows the mission to the possible.

Anonymous said…
One answer would have been for SPS to have used the $575,000 they gave to both the TIERs group and Seneca for intervention for SLD students.

For around $18K each they could have used the monies for early intervention sending 31 students to Hamlin-Robinson?
They could have trained 31 teachers in the methods used at Hamlin-Robinson?
Purchased assistive technology for high schools?

Teaching is not easy and not for everyone. We need the right people in the right places and then give them the most support possible. SPS has wasted too much money on programs which are NOT scientifically proven to provide benefits and in some cases do harm.

We need administrators who understand this and want to fix the problems. It's time to turn the current model on its head and drive decisions from the classroom perspective.

Anonymous said…
You are spot on, Michael. With a proven institution in this city experienced in language/learning disorders, SPS is abjectly failing in its mandate to educate all children by not accessing that resource. Language disorders should be caught at K level. It can be done. K teachers should all be trained in identifying dyslexia.

Lip service. And high paychecks for supe's and administrators. That's all Seattle seems to have to offer.

Anonymous said…
Michael, continuing to complain about people with autism will not help your cause, even if you change your moniker. (eg, your snide remarks about "pervasives" pretty much lets everyone know who you are) Students with autism do not get 1 or 2 unskilled IAs attached to them. And, parents of students with autism do not get the benefit of some body of neuroscience backed by them either. (Most parents of autistic students want a researched backed program called ABA - and, like you, they don't get that, because people don't get to dictate the type of education. And research? Well, there are millions of different forms of research, and the district can always march out something and claim it's doing research.) Really, there aren't supposed to be any programs for "autism" or pervasives, or dyslexia btw, or any diagnosis. That is illegal.

If you want parents to rise up and fix the problem (as you say you do), you would be wise not to exclude great swaths of the people you think you represent.

It's true that IAs and other staffed might not be well trained, or smart, or good. That can be said of any staff. And when you pay $15/hr - you better do good job of interviewing and training. At your kid's school, there are many excellent IAs. Not sure why you can't figure out how to get them to do what you want.

The fact is, most schools have MANY IAs, for all sorts of reasons - and yet, they can't figure out what to do with them. And that isn't a problem with the IAs - it's a problem with teachers who insist on "stand and deliver" to 35 students - which precludes the effectiveness of any type of resources, no matter how smart, trained, and available. If you're just going to stand and deliver - nobody can really help you with that. And it is a problem with administration who really doesn't care.

Another Parent
Anonymous said…
Actually, Michael is correct: these kids with learning disabilities are way under/dis-served in SPS. As a volunteer in the K-3 level now for years it is easy to see that the strategy for teachers is to keep passing these kids on (and on and on) until and unless their parents start asking questions about why their cognitively capable kids are not making the grade.

This was a really prominent theme in the reports of parents to the TIERS Consulting Group last year.

I think that the SLD situation in SPS is a flag bearer of the apathy and poor training of our principals, psychs and teachers. It is a core civil rights issue for SPS parents. Just passing these kids on from grade to grade (and I've also seen first hand 4-5 grade teacher shrug and roll their eyes at these kids, as if they just don't "want" to get it) is an act of immorality. Training in the neuroscience and good practices for helping these kids cannot be a higher priority in SPS.

That said, Michael probably doesn't realize that for parents of kids with autism the access to applied behavioral analysis -- the ONLY evidence-based methodology for bringing about positive behavioral change for ASD students -- is only available to SPS parents who file a lawsuit with the SPS. Why SPS resists ABA while every single district around SPS is developing contracts with people who have that training/credential, is the question of the hour and the question that gets to the heart of the legitimacy of this current and all previous SPED and T&L administrations. Why should families have to find a lawyer to get their student's access to this methodology? Why can't we count on our district to make this the standard for all IEPS where autism pertains?

This is the insularity and weirdness of SPS central administration and of course buildings take their cue accordingly.

Anonymous said…
I'm not sure if the poster is conflating me with Michael. I hope not. I'm a teacher and I know very well we aren't to "diagnose" anything. But we certainly can expect those who determine curriculum and programs to access resources. Is it illegal or unethical for educational bureaucrats to know something about educating all kids? Another Parent, you sound as if you are arguing just to argue. Do you have a past annoyance with his posts?

If we have a sped department and are devoting tens of thousands of dollars - millions? - to it, we ought to have the confidence that it knows how to put that expertise and money towards the education of targeted kids and use whatever resources are available and proven. Anything else is all ego and ass-backwards.

Jet City mom said…
But they can't find special education teachers to serve the 20% of their students that qualify?

Anonymous said…
Regarding that 4-5 grade teacher "rolling her eyes and shrugging" - she is supposed to go back to school for a course in neuro-science? I agree that I think teachers need to do more on their own to at least have a competent level of curiosity and understanding of brain development and learning styles. But, really, just how much do you expect from teachers? Isn't that why we have specialists?

With all due respect, yours is another example of blaming teachers. Shrugs are obviously not good PR, but neither are they testaments to poor teachers. Overworked teachers perhaps. But not necessarily poor teachers. We are in the trenches making do with what we have. Sometimes, it is too much. But I can tell you one thing for sure: If a parent is unhappy, it is always the teacher's fault.

Anonymous said…
"If we have a sped department and are devoting tens of thousands of dollars - millions? - to it, we ought to have the confidence that it knows how to put that expertise and money towards the education of targeted kids and use whatever resources are available and proven. Anything else is all ego and ass-backwards."

Well said "so"! But it is a double whammy in Seattle Public Schools: not only does the district not know or advocate best practices (the above posters are correct where SLDs and autism/applied behavioral analysis are concerned), even in cases where the right thing is being brought about through a legal intervention you still cannot get the teachers to buy in. The first poster on this thread is correct: the combination of workforce attitude and central admin ad hoc approaches to special education mean that we can't really even get to first base for special ed students as general education students first in SPS.

reader 24
Anonymous said…
@so..."With all due respect, yours is another example of blaming teachers. Shrugs are obviously not good PR, but neither are they testaments to poor teachers."

If it were only a matter of PR, who would care. But shrugging away a student's difficulties is that teacher opting out. That teacher ought to be that student's first advocate. Where is the school intervention process? Where is the school reading or math specialists, the school special education supervisor or school psychologist? Who else is going to push for a student if not that student's teacher?

I've got to say, I think in SPS it is AOK for that student's teacher to opt out and roll her or his eyes and say geezs whatever about that student and suddenly that student, who is capable cognitively of passing all the work that is given to same age peers, is 2-3 grade behind and now it is Morningside's or Hamlin Robinson's task to catch that student up. For those families who can afford to bring that about. A real equity issue esp when it comes to students struggling whose first language is not English.

questioning "so"
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
I would question that you can't get teachers to buy in. Buy-in to what? That's the question to which I've failed to get answers. I've never seen a fully-fleshed out sped program at my school. I don't know exactly what it is I'm supposed to buy into. Years ago I took a training at Hamlin Robinson when it was offered south of Tukwila almost to Burien. I learned a lot. Mostly I learned to help get my families connected to private tutoring because true dyslexia is very hard for a classroom teacher to manage.

There are a limited number of options for classroom teachers. The District must be the leader and get consensus on the approach that guides any sped program. How can you expect it to start with teachers. Workforce attitude isn't the problem unless you expect the workforce to solve the problem. The negative workforce attitude you pose is the face of teachers' exhaustion but not their commitment. Do you really think the only thing in the way of a successful sped program is teacher attitude? Give us a program that we can trust and believe in, then watch how well we make it work. In my years of service in Seattle, I've never seen it. I would really like to hear from posters who have seen excellent sped service in Seattle and some details describing what it looks like. My guess is that what works for some draws criticism from others.

Sandabbottman said…
After reading today's editorial I sighed and realized that many outside of the classroom have little idea of what it's like to have to contend with the "new" ideas researchers or writers put forth. The needs that people who learn differently are not new. The greatest minds iced U cation have yet to figure out the solution. Pointing fingers and promoting new ideas without describing them is tough for those of us who have been through every fad, swinging pendulum and come to realize it's about walking in the door, bringing your willingness to do your best to serve EVERY kid and build relationships with parents, other teachers, administrators and community members so the one clear message is that together we can improve.
Anonymous said…
Math specialists? Reading specialists? We don't even have a tutoring program even with poorly paid parents tutors set up yet. Ask our principal about that one. How do you advocate for a student if the principal doesn't even show an interest in providing leadership for struggling kids. We don't qualify for many dollars. I'm not in a wealthy school but it isn't a poor school either. School psych - 1 1/2 day a week. No sped "supervisor." SIT? - few results from those as well.

And you miss the point of my post: blaming teachers gets you nowhere. But continue to blame if you must. You will simply generate more and more shrugs because we have finally reached the point where teachers are starting not to care. Advocating for kids in a system that a) doesn't care and b) won't address the problem is futile. Simply advocating without results - well, what's the point of that?

You just did it yourself. You put the blame on teachers. Easy to do.

I'm curious. We have about the same # of years in. What is the F/R rate at your school? Share some specific fixes you have gleaned from your SIT process - no names, just some specific strategies resulting from your SIT process in response to specific issues. Other than gaining a sped label for a kid, few gains have been made in general for struggling students at my school.

One more thing: your point about parents with the means taking their kids to Hamlin Robinson is a good one. So, what's the alternative? All my posts have grieved the absence of alternatives. So, what's yours?

Anonymous said…
Back to Not Well Staffed: your point about admin refusing the service of a specialist in the area of neuroscience is well taken. That's the real problem. We need a proactive and ambitiously curious and pedagogically-informed administration composed of people passionate about learning. Yes, teachers should be as well. But leadership is crucial. It starts there. It is the choices made by central admin that dictates what teachers teach. Esp. in schools which are led by principals who narrowly define curricula and have little to no understanding of how kids learn. Sorry to say it but such principals are out there.

I've thoroughly exhausted myself here. Probably to your relief.

Anonymous said…
For students to receive services they must qualify by having a diagnosis of a LD. 504s are different.

Schools should match the diagnosis to the scientifically proven methodologies and base SDI and adjust as needed.

SPS has zero scientifically proven methodologies and SDI for SLD students. SPS is guilty of administratively promoting thousands of students each year which by law is a violation of their civil rights.

Over the past two years the UW education department experts offered free of charge to help SPS build a program to serve SLD students and of coarse SPS turned them down...TWICE. Why would they turn down help from one of the most notable experts in dyslexia in the world?

Anonymous said…
Michael is not strictly speaking correct. In order to qualify for special education services, a student must qualify in 1 of 13 disability categories based on an educational evaluation. Simply getting a diagnosis from outside the district, qualifies you for nothing. But, it is a good start. And with a lawyer, you can usually make the school psych cave in and qualify your child for services when you have a diagnosis from a real psych (not a school psych) or other medical practitioner.

The reason there isn't any focus on "researched based" practice - is because 100% of the efforts for actual students of the central administration is on student placement and nothing else. Eg. Finding a chair for a kid who doesn't fit in. Because there is no assignment plan for students with disabilities, all of their efforts must be spent on student assignment, and program placement. When a school complains about a student not working out - the very first thing the central office does is try to find a new placement. They NEVER try to figure out how to make the current one work, or how to improve practice to align with needs, or how to change the educational environment to meet the needs of the student.

Somebody mentions special ed "supervisors". Supervisors only do one thing for the student who has become a problem at his school; they find another seat for that butt, and they have assignment authority. Has ANYONE, ever, ever in a million years, heard of a central administrator talk about ANY actual special ed practice? ???? The ONLY thing they talk about is "type of setting", "type of placement", "where is there capacity", "what type of discipline", "how long can you suspend", "what type of transportation". Never once, in a million years, will one talk about practice, curriculum, materials, reinforcement, teaching style. None of the things we are talking about here. They simply aren't part of what special ed central office does.

The problem for the SLD student is that none of this placement machination - applies to the SLD student. In reality, while it is cycles that are burned on more significant disability - it doesn't provide better service for students with more significant disability. Intellectually disabled students, students with autism, DS or anything else - are not jumping for joy because they "get" to be shipped off to some distant program.

If anything is to improve - the administration of special ed needs to focus on actual needs and practice, and on how to align needs with practice. Michael is right about that. Placement, of course, is something that central office must do. But more importantly, it must take some interest and ownership of practice. Unfortunately, there's nobody there qualified to do that. So, they focus on simply moving students around. After all, moving students around is a lot easier than figuring out how or what to teach. Michael is wrong that this phenomenon is unique to students with LD. No, it's true for all students with disabilities.

It isn't all that interesting - who to blame. The more interesting thing is how to fix.

Another Parent
Ragweed said…
I can add another horror story - at the conversation with the Native American community on December 16th, one grandparent described a 504 meeting where she was told "We don't want any of that Indian stuff at this meeting." At which point she walked out and the school staff tried to go on and do the 504 meeting without a guardian present. (Gail Morris was apparently also at the meeting and stopped that).

Both the conversation with the Native community and the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education Listening Session at Daybreak Star on November 24th were ripe with testimony about how badly Native students have been mistreated in the Seattle School District. The Washington Indian Civil Rights Commission is preparing a blistering report that will go to the White House, and there is a lot of talk about a class action lawsuit.

If I can find a transcript or report of either meeting I will pass it on.

On a personal note, my daughter (who is white) is an SM1 student for Oral-Motor Apraxia and an unspecified reading disorder (is Dyslexia still a diagnostic category? I thought they had taken that out of the DSM?) She has had an excellent experience with both her gen-ed and special-ed teachers at Pinehurst and The Center School. In both schools, I've gotten a strong sense that serving students with disabilities is part of the social justice mission of the school. I am not sure if that is everyone's experience, but that was mine. So there are schools and teachers out there that do take it seriously - it is not impossible for the rest of SPS to do the same.
Anonymous said…
Hi, a couple of comments - first, thank you so much Melissa for sharing this. While some of the media seized on the "we've got a problem" aspect in a recent report about setting up a state spec ed task force, no one really explored the solution given -- that we have a much more fundamental problem with how we approach, recognize and encourage teaching and learning. For all kids. In manifests in spec ed, and in all our "gaps." The report didn't call for a technique to "fix" the spec ed system, or a much better way to run and oversee spec ed services. It said we need to change the way we approach learning and how we support it in the classroom. It flagged a universal design approach as promising.

Very few have heard about this approach, so really I just wanted to get it out there. Unfortunately the piece didn't publish with a link. Here's where you can learn more: http://www.udlcenter.org/

In response to a comment, UDL is not "project based learning" but rather the understanding that 1. Project based is a great way for some to learn, and it should be available. And 2. Not everyone will thrive in that scenario, so we need to be flexible and provide options.

I think bottom line the idea from the report was we expend so much time, energy, and expense trying to make the current system work for kids, and it just doesn't. In fact, it harms some kids. So why not take that time, energy, and expense and use it to create something that will? And if we were to take that radical step, then we really need to have a close, informative, ongoing dialogue with staff, students, and parents to figure out how to implement at the teacher and student level.

Finally, yes, dyslexia is still listed as a federally recognized specific learning disability. Different school districts use different labels, though. It can make communication a challenge. - Ramona H
Anonymous said…
The biggest problem I have seen for sped students in SPS, is the attitude from teachers (gen ed) & administrators, that they shouldn't have to educate those kids. I have seen teachers routinely refuse to implement basic accommodations because, it would be cheating, or they should have to put up with that kid.

The second biggest challenge I have seen is that when teachers are willing to work with a sped student, they lack the training, support &/or information to do so effectively. My child had teachers who were committed to helping but had not even heard of this disability. Even sped teachers can not possibly know research-based interventions for every disability. It is too much. Perhaps having case mangers who specialize in one disability & could help set up interventions & monitor outcomes.

Finally I have spent time tutoring in classrooms that I thought were extremely successful for most sped kids. These were classrooms with one gen ed teacher & one sped teacher co-teaching gen ed & sped students. Often there was an IA or 2 as well. All students studied the same subject, like the constitution. There were group activities that all participated in the same way. But they also often used different materials & produced different final products. Each student had a an individual rubric for each lesson aligned with the goals on their iep as well as the goals of the lesson. If a student asked for my help I could look at their rubric & see immediately what they were working to accomplish. Huge range of abilities in those classes learned together. I saw this work well with math classes too where a 1 minute diagnostic was given at the beginning of each lesson & then kids were divided into groups where they worked on the next skill they needed to get to the end of the unit. Also very efficient because the sped teacher knew what was going on in the class & didn't have to waste time trying to get materials, expectations, language used from a teacher to support students in separate study skills class.

-Happy tutor
Carol Simmons said…
Dear Ragweed,

Thank you for your comments about Native Education. If you could find the reports, please post them. I guess progress often includes court ordered action. It continues to amaze and distress me that the all-school assembly about Indigenous cultures and the education and sharing of the Native culture at Ingraham High School was denied. The alternatives that have been offered by the School and sent to the Clear Sky and UNEA President are offensive and meaningless. The importance of this assembly should not be reduced to including Native Culture in an All School Multicultural assembly. It is also disappointing that the SPS Leadership found the alternatives satisfactory and are not strongly encouraging the Principal to reconsider.

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