Thank you, Cincy Enquirer: focused editorial on line-item veto & vouchers

You can read it here.

The Plain Dealer has this breakdown of the Ohio budget, which Strickland must sign by midnight Saturday night, per the Enquirer article.

For the record, I don’t get it.

The funding for services for kids on IEPs typically comes from the federal government, yes? So the $160 million – is that federal money? Are we allowed to transfer that to private schools? Will this provision be able to be challenged?

And I wish people who keep talking about teachers unions would stop. You are jaded. This isn’t about that. I mean, maybe it is – but it’s about far more.

Service provision to high needs kids, whether gifted or special ed, has to be done a scale of economy. And moving 3% of kids on IEPs across how many schools is going to completely undermine the ability to serve these children.

Will it ease the parents’ pocketbook? Maybe in the extreme short-term.

But I have yet to read a single article about how this will actually work or help. And I’ve already linked to studies that say it won’t.

I’ve been involved in the education of kids and parents of kids with special needs for over eight years. And I’m telling you, this special ed voucher program has very real problems if your interest is in the kids.

If your interest is anywhere else, then you’re just using the kids. Talk about insult on injury.

7 thoughts on “Thank you, Cincy Enquirer: focused editorial on line-item veto & vouchers

  1. Erica – seriously, thank you.I’m really disheartened to read what you write. It should not be what a parent experiences with its public school.So let me ask you – why do you, based on your experience and NOT as a rhetorical or gotcha kind of question – why do you think that the money, as it currently exists in the public school system to be used for special ed kids, results in children not being served?You may be familiar with the Monarch School. I actually wrote the legal brief for the Bellefaire administration when it was deciding whether to make that school a charter or an independent private school (it went independent private). I know it costs something like $60K a year.BUT – I also know families with kids who are at different points along the autism spectrum who attend my district’s public school. Of course I can see that what Monarch offers is not what Orange offers – but what Orange offers isn’t necessarily inferior, depending on the child.I’m not saying that I promote the inequalities inherent in a public education system that tries to do its best and sometimes fails. And I am saying that I have to believe – in fact, I KNOW that some public school districts are relieved to not have certain kinds of kids in their district and will in fact pay exorbitant amounts of money to have those kids educated elsewhere.And I appreciate what you say about gifted kids issues, but, with the respect you offer to me, I offer to you – the group I work with in my district is a network of parents with kids who are special needs, gifted or both. The problems do indeed very often overlap and the needs overlap – at least in some very essential ways (need for smaller classes, more one on one, individual plans and so on).I say I’m disheartened because there are examples, like my district – which, like you say yours is, is considered a good one and is quite well off financially, relative to much of the rest of Ohio, where kids on both ends of the spectrum are taken care of and taken care of well.But parents still have to advocate for them. I don’t see how you have good education anywhere without that. So I don’t see the fact that we have to advocate for our kids as something that needs to be neutralized.I’m glad that the autism scholarship is working out for you. Maybe you are in fact the example of the cases in which it can work, does work and should be allowed to work.But I think, given some of the real problems out there with state money going to private schools or charters, and the fact that this particular voucher plan was so quick-tracked, and lacks any oversight, it’s not unreasonable for people to want it to wait.And, as I say, there are gifted kids in failing school districts as well as ones that aren’t in academic emergency who get zippo – because we don’t mandate it for then. So long as they aren’t dragging test scores down, nothing gets offered. It’s a loss and a shame and a tragedy.And I’d like to see someone champion that cause for a change.Thanks – and again, good luck with your family.

  2. Jill, it was my county mr/dd that placed my son in his school, a couple of months after he got his autism diagnosis. He attends a nonprofit private academy that specializes in educating children with autism–half of the students at my son’s school have autism and the remaining students are typically developing peer models–it was founded several years ago by a group of parents that were frustrated by the education (or lack thereof) that their children were getting in public schools–their children were basically getting babysitting services each day at school instead of getting an education, and were being so bullied that they were afraid for the safety and mental wellness of their children. My son’s school has grown every year and is now one of the top 5 schools for kids with autism, as recognized by the US Dept of Education, and the school has a waiting list that is over 200 families long. There are families that have literally quit their jobs and moved from other states just to come to this school. At the time my son was placed by MR/DD into his school, my public district (one of the wealthiest districts in the state by the way) offered 2 mornings each week in an educational service center preschool (STACK program) that was on the other side of our town. Summer school (ESY) was not offered because it is the policy of the district that parents must prove that a child will regress during the summer–and how do you prove regression until it actually occurs? By then it is too late. When he began kindergarten, he was offered a half day program by our school district, part of which would have been spent in a “resource room”. At my son’s private school, he immediately was placed in a full day program that runs all year long. There are about 12 students in each class with three teachers & staff. In kindergarten, he spent part of his day in the first grade classroom because academically he is so advanced–he is definitely getting a quality education. Not only is he getting a top notch education, but he has been taught the social skills that children with autism do not learn automatically–within the classroom environment–at his school he learned to talk, how to play with his peers, how to control his behaviors. We even have a behavior plan where one of the teachers comes to our home to work with our son’s behaviors at home. This is above and beyond what is in our IEP–we don’t have anything about home programming in our IEP. I don’t know how many parents do not sign an IEP or that seek out disputes with their district. How many parents have the money to afford that? Time? Legal knowledge? Energy–God only knows how hard it is just to meet the daily needs at home with a child that has special needs. Plus I would assume many parents are too intimidated to dispute with their district since the district could retaliate by taking it out on the child.Also with all due respect, the issues facing a gifted child are not at all the same as a child with special needs–as you know since you were an ombudsman. I was a gifted child when I was young, and my daughter is also gifted, so I can say this with first hand experience. It is comparing apples to oranges. However, even though the issues are not the same, I can’t argue that you should be able to have a voucher to seek private services if you wish to do so for your child, especially if you are not getting the quality of education that your child deserves. I do, however, agree with your concerns about what happens when a private setting not working out. If I get time, I’ll take a look at the Autism Scholarship program and how Ohio Dept of Education handles the providers that are not performing well—my guess is that ODE takes away their authority to be a registered provider but I am not certain about that. But that should not be a reason to not allow the Special Education vouchers…instead focus on how we can ensure proceedural safeguards for the children that opt to use it.I am very passionate about the Special Education Voucher, I think you can see that from my responses. I’ve experienced the opportunities that have opened up for my son via the Autism Scholarship and I’ve seen transformations in him that would not have been possible in our public district. And I know pretty much every other family at my son’s school that uses the autism scholarship feels similar sentiments. Ok I’ve rambled long enough and taken up enough of your time. Thank you for posting my response.

  3. Erica – I appreciate you taking the time to read and write. I really do. I’m also happy for you that you’re happy with the education choices you’ve made.What you don’t mention, though, is how it is that you decided to use the private school your child attends. What led you there?Likewise, you reference a number of somewhat more general complaints that are often levied against public schools but without any back-up – no specifics of where you’ve seen it happen and so on. That would be helpful, instead of just lobbing stuff like:-there is “a real NEED for these vouchers to allow children with special needs to access services that the districts are refusing or unable to provide”Define that.-“All of the funding from the state that is intended for the education of the children with special needs is folded into the general fund of each district…and there is NO accountability that that funding intended for children with special needs is actually spent on the children with special needs. That is why parents have to fight tooth and nail for every bit of necessary services for their child. And districts are spending millions on litigation–what a savings it will be if parents can just pull their child out and place in a private setting instead of spending the taxpayer money in litigation?”My experience has been that parents fight tooth and nail for the services when there is a difference of opinion between a district’s perception of what a child needs and the parents’ perception of what the child needs.What would be really helpful here, in determining the percentage of IEP cases in which the district’s truly are skimping out and/or unable to offer something acceptable is: how many parents actually don’t sign off on the IEP? What percentage of the 260,000 Ohio kids on IEPs have active disputes with their IEPs?THEN, we would look at what percentage of those don’t get resolved at the hearing level.I was an ombuds for a children and family mental health agency for about three years. Parents are passionate. No question. Parents usually know their kids better than anyone else knows their kid.But just because a parents says that x is the way to educate their child doesn’t mean it is, or that it must be provided by the district. You cannot tell me that it works that way in a private school either. I know that it does not.-“This alternative approach also recognizes that students with disabilities face important and significant non-academic challenges. Behavior problems are one such challenge…Another challenge is non-special-needs students bullying special education students.”Erica – I have a profoundly gifted child. This child of mine is considered to be one in 250,000. Sad as it is to say that, there are numerous reasons for which a child is on an IEP that occur FAR FAR FAR more frequently than my child’s exception education situation.And he is subject to precisely what you describe: facing important non-academic challenges, including bullying. The Washington Post wanted to interview him last year about that very topic and he wanted to but my husband and I decided against it.So please, such reasons are not reasons to lobby for vouchers for special ed kids. There are too many other kids who would qualify under that criteria – mine included.Again – I’d be fascinated to know more about the private school you’re using and what they’ve done with the voucher money. In NEOhio, most of the private schools – parochial and independent, let you know off the bat that they do not service special needs kids. Additionally, they don’t hire specialists at all for gifted kids. There are a couple of private schools that have structured themselves to educate kids with special needs and I know families from my school district who’ve been very happy with those couple of schools.Should they get vouchers to defray the cost? Only if I can get vouchers to defray the thousands of dollars I’ve had to spend because my district doesn’t meet all of my profoundly gifted child’s needs – academic and non-academic.-“For those districts that can’t get their act together, the parents can’t afford to let their child suffer…they should have the opportunity to choose to send their child to a provider who is better qualified to meet their needs.”Erica, in my experience, this is a falsehood. The private schools aren’t better qualified to meet the needs. They want the money to try and meet the needs, but again – there is an economy of scale in educating special needs kids. You cannot hire x staff for one child. The cost would never be covered by a voucher. And, as others have pointed out, what if the parent decides that the private setting isn’t working out – no longer suits the child or the parent? Then what happens to the money? Sorry – but you have not convinced me. And I’ve yet to see anyone who comments on this issue use any numbers whatsoever.But again, thanks for writing and I look forward to your thoughts on my thoughts.

  4. Because you have been involved in the education of children (and parents?) with special needs for eight years, then certainly you understand that there is a real NEED for these vouchers to allow children with special needs to access services that the districts are refusing or unable to provide. Not all districts are bad, and many children are getting a good education and quality services. But what about the children who are not? The vouchers result in NO additional funding to the state. Instead it allows parents to access the funding that the district ALREADY receives for their child. All of the funding from the state that is intended for the education of the children with special needs is folded into the general fund of each district…and there is NO accountability that that funding intended for children with special needs is actually spent on the children with special needs. That is why parents have to fight tooth and nail for every bit of necessary services for their child. And districts are spending millions on litigation–what a savings it will be if parents can just pull their child out and place in a private setting instead of spending the taxpayer money in litigation?This voucher approach to providing educational services for our special education children acknowledges that one size doesn’t fit all and that there are effective alternative programs beyond the traditional classroom. Private providers are, in many cases, able to tailor programs to fit the individual needs of students. In addition, the private provider class sizes are frequently smaller, which means more individual attention for each child.This alternative approach also recognizes that students with disabilities face important and significant non-academic challenges. Behavior problems are one such challenge. Parents participating in the McKay Scholarship Program, a similar scholarship program in Florida, report significantly fewer behavior problems. Another challenge is non-special-needs students bullying special education students. Results from the Florida program suggest that private schools are able to develop more effective and flexible discipline policies than public schools, and they are better prepared to protect these vulnerable children.The Wall Street Journal article referenced certainly emphasizes the need for these vouchers–inclusion when done right is a wonderful thing that is a fundamental right to every student…but many school districts are NOT doing a good job of utilizing inclusion–ie teachers are not prepared to adequately meet the various needs of the students, there are too many students in the classrooms, there is no protection for the students against bullies, etc…. For those districts that can’t get their act together, the parents can’t afford to let their child suffer…they should have the opportunity to choose to send their child to a provider who is better qualified to meet their needs.From Erica, who has been using the Autism Scholarship for my child for 3 1/2 years and I have been EXTREMELY pleased with both his services and progress my child has made in the private school that we use–I have COMPLETE peace of mind that my child is safe, loved, and getting a quality education.

  5. Dear some Anonymous commenter: you left the text of an entire WSJ article. I will not reprint articles whole-sale like that. Next time, just leave the link, please.When I tried to delete the text and insert a link to the article, so that I could still post your comment, the comment itself deleted. I tried this twice, recovering your comment from my “trash” but when I tried to delete the WSJ text the second time, the entire comment was deleted completely from my files.Feel free to re-create your comment – but do not insert an article, only it’s link or pertinent part. For anyone interested, “Anonymous” referred readers to an Wall Street Journal article that detailed mainstreaming in Scranton, PA. Here’s an interesting take on that article:http://autismbulletin.blogspot.com/2007/06/tale-from-scranton-pa-classroom.html

  6. This voucher approach to providing educational services for our special education children acknowledges that one size doesn’t fit all and that there are effective alternative programs beyond the traditional classroom. Private providers are, in many cases, able to tailor programs to fit the individual needs of students. In addition, the private provider class sizes are frequently smaller, which means more individual attention for each child.This alternative approach also recognizes that disabled students face important and significant non-academic challenges. Behavior problems are one such challenge. Parents participating in the McKay Scholarship Program, a similar scholarship program in Florida, report significantly fewer behavior problems. Another challenge is non-special-needs students bullying special education students. Results from the Florida program suggest that private schools are able to develop more effective and flexible discipline policies than public schools, and they are better prepared to protect these vulnerable children.Please read this Wall Street Journal article below which emphasizes the need for these vouchers–school districts are not doing a good job of inclusion and meeting the needs of these students.Disabled Children Join Peers, Strain Teachers;’We Need More Help’By JOHN HECHINGERJune 25, 2007; Page A1SCRANTON, Pa. — When school started last August, veteran first-gradeteacher Patricia McDermott made sure to place one student, 8-year-old AndreaGavern, in a seat beside her own desk.Andrea suffers from a rare genetic condition called Williams Syndrome, whichcauses learning disabilities and medical ailments such as heart problems anddifficulty eating. Knowing that Andrea had disrupted her kindergartenclasses a year earlier, Ms. McDermott wanted to keep her new pupil underclose watch.The strategy backfired. One morning, Andrea swept an armalong the teacher’s desk, scattering framed photos of Ms. McDermott’s familyacross the classroom. A glass frame shattered, and another hit a student inthe arm. Though no one was hurt, Ms. McDermott says she lost hours ofinstruction time getting the children to settle down after the disruption.From the first weeks of school, Ms. McDermott found Andrea’s plightheartbreaking. “No! No! No!” she remembers her student screaming at times.”Want Mommy! Want Mommy!””She looked at me, like she was saying, ‘Help me,’ and I couldn’t. How couldI possibly give Andrea what she needs?”Years ago, students like Andrea would have been taught in separateclassrooms. Today, a national movement to “mainstream” special-educationstudents has integrated many of them into the general student body. As aresult, regular teachers are instructing more children with severedisabilities — often without extra training or support.This year, Ms. McDermott counted 19 students in her class at WhittierElementary School. Five had disabilities, including attention deficitdisorder and delays in reading and math. The teacher worried that she wasfailing all her students — especially Andrea. “It used to be a joy to go towork,” she says. “Now all I want to do is run away.”In Scranton and elsewhere, the rush to mainstream disabled students isalienating teachers and driving some of the best from the profession. It hasbecome a little-noticed but key factor behind teacher turnover, whichexperts say largely accounts for a shortage of qualified teachers in theU.S.Each year, about 16% of teachers quit their jobs, either leaving theprofession or moving to another school, according to recent U.S. Departmentof Education surveys. Of those, 35% cite difficulties with mainstreamingspecial-education students as a main reason for their dissatisfaction,according to an analysis of the data by Richard Ingersoll, a professor ofeducation and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.”It’s a red flag,” Prof. Ingersoll says. “Mainstreaming is putting pressureon teachers… and the proponents of this reform are going to need toaddress it sooner or later.”Neil Hunt, a seventh-grade math teacher in the Fairfax County, Va., publicschools, recently quit his job in part because of mainstreaming. “I don’tfeel I can do what’s necessary for these kids,” says Mr. Hunt, a former Navylieutenant who plans to return to the service in a civilian job. “And someof the kids’ behavior is such a distraction for the rest of the class thatthey’re losing a lot of time, too.”In Arizona, Tom Horne, the state’s superintendent of schools, saysmainstreaming special-education students with behavior problems can be”extremely destructive” to teachers’ morale and “a big factor in teachers’leaving.”Also known as “inclusion,” mainstreaming reverses a once-common practicethat Congress determined was unjust: the segregation of disabled children insettings without proper instruction. Many educators say children learn morethrough mainstreaming because they are taught by better-qualified teachersand gain valuable social skills from their peers. By 2005, about 54% ofspecial-education students were taught in “fully inclusive” settings –spending 80% or more of the school day in a regular classroom — up from 33%in 1990.Pennsylvania has been a major battleground in the national wars over specialeducation. Litigation here helped lead to the 1975 federal legislation nowknown as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which requires a”free appropriate” public education for children with disabilities. The lawfostered mainstreaming by mandating that disabled children, when possible,be taught in the “least restrictive environment. “Despite its key role, Pennsylvania was slow to embrace inclusion until 2005,when the state and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia receivedcourt approval to settle a decade-old class-action case brought on behalf of280,000 special-education students who demanded inclusion in regularclassrooms. Districts that aren’t sufficiently inclusive risk losingfunding.But even some advocates of inclusion say it isn’t working as they had hoped.Judith Gran, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney on the case, says that somedistricts aren’t mainstreaming but “main-dumping” — packing classes withdisabled children without adequate staffing. “You hear a lot about it fromteachers,” she says. “They are the ones on the front lines, and they aren’tgetting support.”The Scranton district has 9,800 students, 16% of whom are in specialeducation. About half have learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. Othersstruggle with problems that include intellectual impairment, autism andemotional disorders.LEARNING CURVE• The Issue: The trend of mainstreaming special-education students isdrawing increasing criticism, especially from teachers.• Behind the Debate: Some parents and educators say students withdisabilities get better treatment in general classroom settings. But manyteachers lack training and support.• The Bottom Line: Dissatisfaction with mainstreaming has become a factordriving teacher turnover, a major problem in U.S. education.Until 2004, most of these students were set apart in about 70special-education classes. By last year, the system had eliminated most ofthose classes, which generally had 15 students, a special-education teacherand an aide. Last year, 75% of students with disabilities in the ScrantonSchool District spent 80% of their day or more in regular classrooms, upfrom 28% in 2003.The shift has sparked fierce opposition from the Scranton chapter of theAmerican Federation o
    f Teachers, which has long been critical ofmainstreaming. The issue is expected to be an important part of negotiationsnext year, when the teachers’ contract expires. In a recent union survey ofScranton’s 750 teachers, two-thirds of those responding listed inclusion astheir No. 1 or No. 2 complaint, outranking all other concerns. (The surveydidn’t ask about pay and benefits.)”Inclusion doesn’t work unless class sizes are greatly reduced,” wrote oneteacher. “Children are suffering due to lack of support,” wrote another. “Weneed more help!” added a third.Janet Strelecki, president of Whittier’s Parent Teacher Association, saysshe was inclined to favor inclusion because she runs a home for thedevelopmentally disabled. But when her own daughter, Miranda, who has nospecial needs, was placed in Ms. McDermott’s classroom last year, Ms.Strelecki changed her mind. She says Miranda often felt frustrated becauseshe didn’t get much attention from Ms. McDermott, whom she calls “awonderful teacher.”Ms. Strelecki says as many as 40 Whittier parents have complained aboutinclusion. “The general consensus is that it doesn’t work having all thesekids together,” she says.Some, however, praise inclusion. Sarene O’Malley says her dyslexic daughterJessica felt “ashamed” when she was in a separate special-educationclassroom. Educators say that’s a common sentiment among children withlearning disabilities. Through the inclusion program, Ms. O’Malley saysJessica, who just graduated from Scranton High School, won new friends andconfidence and plans to go to college next year. “She never would have goneon this path” without inclusion, Ms. O’Malley says.Michael Sheridan, Scranton’s school chief, says he sees only “pockets ofresistance” to inclusion. For evidence that the policy is working, Mr.Sheridan cites the system’s overall results. Last year, Standard & Poor’s,the bond-rating agency, listed Scranton as one of only 29 Pennsylvaniaschool systems that were “outperformers” in state tests of reading and mathproficiency for each of the preceding four years.Mr. Sheridan says that President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law requiresthat all students take the same state tests and be instructed by a teacher”highly qualified” in each subject. In his view, inclusion is the best wayto meet the demands of both No Child Left Behind and the federaldisabilities law.Still, many teachers complain that they lack training and support. WhenScranton started the program three years ago, teachers say they receivedabout three days of training, primarily in “differentiated instruction, “which often entails breaking up classes into several groups and usingdifferent sets of materials for each. Administrators say principals oftenprovided more training, including sessions on autism and other disabilities.Special-education instructors assist in regular classrooms and pull studentsout for extra help, but there are few to go around. Scranton has 86specially trained instructors, along with a support staff of 30 speech andlanguage experts, psychologists and others. Together, they must serveroughly 1,600 special-education students in 18 schools.Under the teachers’ union contract, the district is supposed to place nomore than two disabled students in each classroom “where possible.” But,despite that wording, principals often use their discretion to place morespecial-education students in certain classes.Ann Langan, a ninth-grade teacher at Scranton High School, teaches a basicscience class. This year, she had 16 children in one class, 12 of whom werein special education. Another of her classes had 20, 14 with disabilities.Jennifer Zaleski, a fifth-grade teacher, had 16 students, half of whom werein the special-education program. She says the IQs in her class range from50 to 150. As far as understanding how to teach disabled children, she says,”How much knowledge did I have? Probably zip.”Last October, the union filed a grievance with the school system, alleging aviolation at the high school of the teachers’ contract. Administrators toldthe union they would divide special-education students more evenly thisfall.Few have struggled more with inclusion than Ms. McDermott, who teaches atWhittier Elementary, a century-old red-brick building perched on a hillsidewith views of downtown Scranton’s faded storefronts and factories.Ms. McDermott tries to maintain a bright, welcoming classroom, with shinylaminated paper apples hanging on strings from the ceiling, a “birthdaytrain” marking each child’s big day with a cake and a candle, and a pictureof Martin Luther King Jr. by the door.The daughter of a fireman and a Scranton schools’ secretary, Ms. McDermottwanted to be a teacher since she was in kindergarten. In 1974, she graduatedfrom Penn State with a degree in elementary education, then worked as asubstitute teacher until she won her own classroom a decade later. “I ran towork,” says Ms. McDermott, now 54 years old. “I couldn’t wait to get there.I loved being in charge of this world of learning.”Whittier, which is housed in two buildings several blocks apart, has onlyone special-education teacher — and two aides — for the entire school,leaving Ms. McDermott largely on her own. Larry Miner, Whittier’s principal,says he tends to concentrate special-needs students in one classroom foreach grade to make it easier to schedule services. He acknowledges that Ms.McDermott has an unusually large number. But to handle those children, hesays he looks for the most capable instructors. Ms. McDermott “is a verygifted teacher,” he says. “She is very patient.”From the start of this year, Ms. McDermott’s biggest challenge was Andrea.Along with Williams Syndrome, Andrea has sensory processing disorder, alsocommon among autistic children. The first-grader, who gets nourishment froma feeding tube in her stomach, hit other children, screamed for hours,pounded computer keyboards with her fists and tore up worksheets, accordingto the teacher.Mr. Miner says the school system offered to have her attend one of thedistrict’s few separate classrooms for the severely disabled. Her parents,Philip and Johanna Gavern, recall no such offer. Based on the report of aprivate psychologist they hired, they believed that Andrea could makeacademic progress in a mainstream classroom, as long as she had a full-timeaide trained in special education. They asked the school system for one, butwere refused.Mr. Miner maintains that the approach wouldn’t have made “much difference.”The school’s special-education aides, he says, have only high-schooldiplomas and scant disability training. Andrea did get full-time classroomassistance from a local mental-health agency, paid for by the state. Butthat aide has no education training and was present only to help Andrea stayfocused and perform basic tasks.Andrea received 6½ hours of special services a week. These included speechand language support and occupational therapy — mostly in half-hour orone-hour pullout sessions, according to Andrea’s individualized educationprogram, or IEP, the legal document that outlines what the district mustprovide. After school, Andrea’s family privately arranged for her to spendafternoons receiving a variety of physical, music and social-grouptherapies.Ms. McDermott has no expertise in handling Williams Syndrome or any of theother disorders she must manage each day. So she improvised, finding anumber board with tiles that engaged Andrea, and, with her own money, buyingkindergarten reading primers.Soon after the st
    art of the school year, Ms. McDermott started keeping ajournal, recording her time with Andrea to document what she considered anintolerable situation.Ms. McDermott wrote of Andrea touching and hitting other students — albeitgently, with a kind of slapping motion that didn’t pose any threat. Andreaalso threw papers and tore up assignments.Her behavior could be unpredictable and unnerving. “At story-time, Andreaturned to children next to her on either side and was making forcefulspitting sounds into their ears,” she wrote in an entry for Aug. 31.”I can’t listen because of Andrea,” Shaun Hopkins, 6, a general educationstudent, said recently.Andrea, who can be quick to smile and laugh and wears a neat part in hershort blonde hair, loves computers and, at home, enjoys listening onheadphones to the Lion King and other Disney movies. But, even when happilyensconced on a terminal in the back of the classroom, she could growfrustrated. On Sept. 7, she banged the keyboard with her fists, took off herheadset and threw it down on the keys. Her aide from the mental-healthagency took her out of the room.On Sept. 27, Andrea, who had been moaning quietly, launched into afull-throated scream, which lasted from 1:25 p.m. to 2:15 p.m., according toa journal entry. Ms. McDermott didn’t know why. Andrea’s aide moved her intothe hall and then to a room in the basement, though the class could stillhear muffled cries, the teacher says.The school called her mother to take her home. Ms. McDermott says she stillremembers Ms. Gavern picking up her screaming child and carrying her, legsdangling, past other parents gathered for pickup. Ms. McDermott says shelater learned that Andrea was feeling pain from her feeding tube.Through December or January, Ms. Gavern says she would have to pull Andreaout of school and take her home once or twice a week, usually in the latemorning. Ms. Gavern used to work as a property manager for the rental unitsshe owns with her husband, a real-estate agent. The couple had to hireothers to do her job, so she would be available to pick up Andrea. “Icouldn’t do anything because I was waiting by the phone,” Ms. Gavern says.Tensions grew between teacher and parent. Ms. Gavern says she becameconvinced that Ms. McDermott didn’t want Andrea in her class and, at a fallIEP meeting, expressed her concerns.”I don’t think she has the knowledge,” Ms. Gavern says of Ms. McDermott. “Idon’t think she has the support. It’s not entirely her fault. She wasoverwhelmed. The school system was not there to back her up. I blame them,too.”Ms. McDermott says she agrees with that assessment, adding that “the systemwas not set up for children like Andrea.”On May 3, Ms. McDermott planned an art project painting flower pots forMother’s Day. “Oh, no! Oh, no!” Andrea shouted, stamping her feet and wavingher arms, before being led out of the room. Andrea had wanted to spend moretime on the computer.With the art assignment finished, Andrea, dressed in an embroidered blouse,a pressed khaki skirt and pink sneakers, returned to her place in the backof the classroom, where she sat next to her mental-health aide. The twoworked on their own, while the class did a reading lesson.”Do you know six minus three?” her aide asked. “No!” Andrea replied. Withthe help of her attendant, Andrea copied the numbers 16, 19 and 20 from aworkbook. “Very nice 20,” her aide said.Later, Andrea briefly rejoined the class. Andrea raised her hand,volunteering to read a book out loud in front of the class. “All fall down,”Andrea read, clearly, though from a book simpler than those of herclassmates. “Good job!” Ms. McDermott told her.Despite such glimmers of hope, the Gaverns have given up on Scranton. Thismonth, due to their dissatisfaction with Andrea’s school, they sold theirhouse and moved to nearby Clarks Summit. The family had heard positivereports from other parents about the school system, which may put Andrea ina separate class for at least part of the day.”It just hasn’t worked out at all,” says Mr. Gavern, surrounded by packingboxes. “Inclusion sounds great on paper. But the [Scranton] school systemisn’t prepared.”With the school year just over, Ms. McDermott says she feels tremendousrelief, and the migraine headaches that once afflicted her almost weeklyhave disappeared. But she is still struggling with her own future. Ms.McDermott has decided to stay through the end of next year — her 31st as ateacher — when she can quit with full health benefits and start a newcareer.”It’s the end,” Ms. McDermott says. “I don’t have it in me any more. I usedto think I’d stay forever until they kicked me out. It’s sad. It’s too sad.”Write to John Hechinger at john.hechinger@ wsj.com3

  7. This voucher approach to providing educational services for our special education children acknowledges that one size doesn’t fit all and that there are effective alternative programs beyond the traditional classroom. Private providers are, in many cases, able to tailor programs to fit the individual needs of students. In addition, the private provider class sizes are frequently smaller, which means more individual attention for each child.This alternative approach also recognizes that disabled students face important and significant non-academic challenges. Behavior problems are one such challenge. Parents participating in the McKay Scholarship Program, a similar scholarship program in Florida, report significantly fewer behavior problems. Another challenge is non-special-needs students bullying special education students. Results from the Florida program suggest that private schools are able to develop more effective and flexible discipline policies than public schools, and they are better prepared to protect these vulnerable children.Please read this Wall Street Journal article below which emphasizes the need for these vouchers–school districts are not doing a good job of inclusion and meeting the needs of these students.Disabled Children Join Peers, Strain Teachers;’We Need More Help’By JOHN HECHINGERJune 25, 2007; Page A1SCRANTON, Pa. — When school started last August, veteran first-gradeteacher Patricia McDermott made sure to place one student, 8-year-old AndreaGavern, in a seat beside her own desk.Andrea suffers from a rare genetic condition called Williams Syndrome, whichcauses learning disabilities and medical ailments such as heart problems anddifficulty eating. Knowing that Andrea had disrupted her kindergartenclasses a year earlier, Ms. McDermott wanted to keep her new pupil underclose watch.The strategy backfired. One morning, Andrea swept an armalong the teacher’s desk, scattering framed photos of Ms. McDermott’s familyacross the classroom. A glass frame shattered, and another hit a student inthe arm. Though no one was hurt, Ms. McDermott says she lost hours ofinstruction time getting the children to settle down after the disruption.From the first weeks of school, Ms. McDermott found Andrea’s plightheartbreaking. “No! No! No!” she remembers her student screaming at times.”Want Mommy! Want Mommy!””She looked at me, like she was saying, ‘Help me,’ and I couldn’t. How couldI possibly give Andrea what she needs?”Years ago, students like Andrea would have been taught in separateclassrooms. Today, a national movement to “mainstream” special-educationstudents has integrated many of them into the general student body. As aresult, regular teachers are instructing more children with severedisabilities — often without extra training or support.This year, Ms. McDermott counted 19 students in her class at WhittierElementary School. Five had disabilities, including attention deficitdisorder and delays in reading and math. The teacher worried that she wasfailing all her students — especially Andrea. “It used to be a joy to go towork,” she says. “Now all I want to do is run away.”In Scranton and elsewhere, the rush to mainstream disabled students isalienating teachers and driving some of the best from the profession. It hasbecome a little-noticed but key factor behind teacher turnover, whichexperts say largely accounts for a shortage of qualified teachers in theU.S.Each year, about 16% of teachers quit their jobs, either leaving theprofession or moving to another school, according to recent U.S. Departmentof Education surveys. Of those, 35% cite difficulties with mainstreamingspecial-education students as a main reason for their dissatisfaction,according to an analysis of the data by Richard Ingersoll, a professor ofeducation and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.”It’s a red flag,” Prof. Ingersoll says. “Mainstreaming is putting pressureon teachers… and the proponents of this reform are going to need toaddress it sooner or later.”Neil Hunt, a seventh-grade math teacher in the Fairfax County, Va., publicschools, recently quit his job in part because of mainstreaming. “I don’tfeel I can do what’s necessary for these kids,” says Mr. Hunt, a former Navylieutenant who plans to return to the service in a civilian job. “And someof the kids’ behavior is such a distraction for the rest of the class thatthey’re losing a lot of time, too.”In Arizona, Tom Horne, the state’s superintendent of schools, saysmainstreaming special-education students with behavior problems can be”extremely destructive” to teachers’ morale and “a big factor in teachers’leaving.”Also known as “inclusion,” mainstreaming reverses a once-common practicethat Congress determined was unjust: the segregation of disabled children insettings without proper instruction. Many educators say children learn morethrough mainstreaming because they are taught by better-qualified teachersand gain valuable social skills from their peers. By 2005, about 54% ofspecial-education students were taught in “fully inclusive” settings –spending 80% or more of the school day in a regular classroom — up from 33%in 1990.Pennsylvania has been a major battleground in the national wars over specialeducation. Litigation here helped lead to the 1975 federal legislation nowknown as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which requires a”free appropriate” public education for children with disabilities. The lawfostered mainstreaming by mandating that disabled children, when possible,be taught in the “least restrictive environment. “Despite its key role, Pennsylvania was slow to embrace inclusion until 2005,when the state and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia receivedcourt approval to settle a decade-old class-action case brought on behalf of280,000 special-education students who demanded inclusion in regularclassrooms. Districts that aren’t sufficiently inclusive risk losingfunding.But even some advocates of inclusion say it isn’t working as they had hoped.Judith Gran, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney on the case, says that somedistricts aren’t mainstreaming but “main-dumping” — packing classes withdisabled children without adequate staffing. “You hear a lot about it fromteachers,” she says. “They are the ones on the front lines, and they aren’tgetting support.”The Scranton district has 9,800 students, 16% of whom are in specialeducation. About half have learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. Othersstruggle with problems that include intellectual impairment, autism andemotional disorders.LEARNING CURVE• The Issue: The trend of mainstreaming special-education students isdrawing increasing criticism, especially from teachers.• Behind the Debate: Some parents and educators say students withdisabilities get better treatment in general classroom settings. But manyteachers lack training and support.• The Bottom Line: Dissatisfaction with mainstreaming has become a factordriving teacher turnover, a major problem in U.S. education.Until 2004, most of these students were set apart in about 70special-education classes. By last year, the system had eliminated most ofthose classes, which generally had 15 students, a special-education teacherand an aide. Last year, 75% of students with disabilities in the ScrantonSchool District spent 80% of their day or more in regular classrooms, upfrom 28% in 2003.The shift has sparked fierce opposition from the Scranton chapter of theAmerican Federation o
    f Teachers, which has long been critical ofmainstreaming. The issue is expected to be an important part of negotiationsnext year, when the teachers’ contract expires. In a recent union survey ofScranton’s 750 teachers, two-thirds of those responding listed inclusion astheir No. 1 or No. 2 complaint, outranking all other concerns. (The surveydidn’t ask about pay and benefits.)”Inclusion doesn’t work unless class sizes are greatly reduced,” wrote oneteacher. “Children are suffering due to lack of support,” wrote another. “Weneed more help!” added a third.Janet Strelecki, president of Whittier’s Parent Teacher Association, saysshe was inclined to favor inclusion because she runs a home for thedevelopmentally disabled. But when her own daughter, Miranda, who has nospecial needs, was placed in Ms. McDermott’s classroom last year, Ms.Strelecki changed her mind. She says Miranda often felt frustrated becauseshe didn’t get much attention from Ms. McDermott, whom she calls “awonderful teacher.”Ms. Strelecki says as many as 40 Whittier parents have complained aboutinclusion. “The general consensus is that it doesn’t work having all thesekids together,” she says.Some, however, praise inclusion. Sarene O’Malley says her dyslexic daughterJessica felt “ashamed” when she was in a separate special-educationclassroom. Educators say that’s a common sentiment among children withlearning disabilities. Through the inclusion program, Ms. O’Malley saysJessica, who just graduated from Scranton High School, won new friends andconfidence and plans to go to college next year. “She never would have goneon this path” without inclusion, Ms. O’Malley says.Michael Sheridan, Scranton’s school chief, says he sees only “pockets ofresistance” to inclusion. For evidence that the policy is working, Mr.Sheridan cites the system’s overall results. Last year, Standard & Poor’s,the bond-rating agency, listed Scranton as one of only 29 Pennsylvaniaschool systems that were “outperformers” in state tests of reading and mathproficiency for each of the preceding four years.Mr. Sheridan says that President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law requiresthat all students take the same state tests and be instructed by a teacher”highly qualified” in each subject. In his view, inclusion is the best wayto meet the demands of both No Child Left Behind and the federaldisabilities law.Still, many teachers complain that they lack training and support. WhenScranton started the program three years ago, teachers say they receivedabout three days of training, primarily in “differentiated instruction, “which often entails breaking up classes into several groups and usingdifferent sets of materials for each. Administrators say principals oftenprovided more training, including sessions on autism and other disabilities.Special-education instructors assist in regular classrooms and pull studentsout for extra help, but there are few to go around. Scranton has 86specially trained instructors, along with a support staff of 30 speech andlanguage experts, psychologists and others. Together, they must serveroughly 1,600 special-education students in 18 schools.Under the teachers’ union contract, the district is supposed to place nomore than two disabled students in each classroom “where possible.” But,despite that wording, principals often use their discretion to place morespecial-education students in certain classes.Ann Langan, a ninth-grade teacher at Scranton High School, teaches a basicscience class. This year, she had 16 children in one class, 12 of whom werein special education. Another of her classes had 20, 14 with disabilities.Jennifer Zaleski, a fifth-grade teacher, had 16 students, half of whom werein the special-education program. She says the IQs in her class range from50 to 150. As far as understanding how to teach disabled children, she says,”How much knowledge did I have? Probably zip.”Last October, the union filed a grievance with the school system, alleging aviolation at the high school of the teachers’ contract. Administrators toldthe union they would divide special-education students more evenly thisfall.Few have struggled more with inclusion than Ms. McDermott, who teaches atWhittier Elementary, a century-old red-brick building perched on a hillsidewith views of downtown Scranton’s faded storefronts and factories.Ms. McDermott tries to maintain a bright, welcoming classroom, with shinylaminated paper apples hanging on strings from the ceiling, a “birthdaytrain” marking each child’s big day with a cake and a candle, and a pictureof Martin Luther King Jr. by the door.The daughter of a fireman and a Scranton schools’ secretary, Ms. McDermottwanted to be a teacher since she was in kindergarten. In 1974, she graduatedfrom Penn State with a degree in elementary education, then worked as asubstitute teacher until she won her own classroom a decade later. “I ran towork,” says Ms. McDermott, now 54 years old. “I couldn’t wait to get there.I loved being in charge of this world of learning.”Whittier, which is housed in two buildings several blocks apart, has onlyone special-education teacher — and two aides — for the entire school,leaving Ms. McDermott largely on her own. Larry Miner, Whittier’s principal,says he tends to concentrate special-needs students in one classroom foreach grade to make it easier to schedule services. He acknowledges that Ms.McDermott has an unusually large number. But to handle those children, hesays he looks for the most capable instructors. Ms. McDermott “is a verygifted teacher,” he says. “She is very patient.”From the start of this year, Ms. McDermott’s biggest challenge was Andrea.Along with Williams Syndrome, Andrea has sensory processing disorder, alsocommon among autistic children. The first-grader, who gets nourishment froma feeding tube in her stomach, hit other children, screamed for hours,pounded computer keyboards with her fists and tore up worksheets, accordingto the teacher.Mr. Miner says the school system offered to have her attend one of thedistrict’s few separate classrooms for the severely disabled. Her parents,Philip and Johanna Gavern, recall no such offer. Based on the report of aprivate psychologist they hired, they believed that Andrea could makeacademic progress in a mainstream classroom, as long as she had a full-timeaide trained in special education. They asked the school system for one, butwere refused.Mr. Miner maintains that the approach wouldn’t have made “much difference.”The school’s special-education aides, he says, have only high-schooldiplomas and scant disability training. Andrea did get full-time classroomassistance from a local mental-health agency, paid for by the state. Butthat aide has no education training and was present only to help Andrea stayfocused and perform basic tasks.Andrea received 6½ hours of special services a week. These included speechand language support and occupational therapy — mostly in half-hour orone-hour pullout sessions, according to Andrea’s individualized educationprogram, or IEP, the legal document that outlines what the district mustprovide. After school, Andrea’s family privately arranged for her to spendafternoons receiving a variety of physical, music and social-grouptherapies.Ms. McDermott has no expertise in handling Williams Syndrome or any of theother disorders she must manage each day. So she improvised, finding anumber board with tiles that engaged Andrea, and, with her own money, buyingkindergarten reading primers.Soon after the st
    art of the school year, Ms. McDermott started keeping ajournal, recording her time with Andrea to document what she considered anintolerable situation.Ms. McDermott wrote of Andrea touching and hitting other students — albeitgently, with a kind of slapping motion that didn’t pose any threat. Andreaalso threw papers and tore up assignments.Her behavior could be unpredictable and unnerving. “At story-time, Andreaturned to children next to her on either side and was making forcefulspitting sounds into their ears,” she wrote in an entry for Aug. 31.”I can’t listen because of Andrea,” Shaun Hopkins, 6, a general educationstudent, said recently.Andrea, who can be quick to smile and laugh and wears a neat part in hershort blonde hair, loves computers and, at home, enjoys listening onheadphones to the Lion King and other Disney movies. But, even when happilyensconced on a terminal in the back of the classroom, she could growfrustrated. On Sept. 7, she banged the keyboard with her fists, took off herheadset and threw it down on the keys. Her aide from the mental-healthagency took her out of the room.On Sept. 27, Andrea, who had been moaning quietly, launched into afull-throated scream, which lasted from 1:25 p.m. to 2:15 p.m., according toa journal entry. Ms. McDermott didn’t know why. Andrea’s aide moved her intothe hall and then to a room in the basement, though the class could stillhear muffled cries, the teacher says.The school called her mother to take her home. Ms. McDermott says she stillremembers Ms. Gavern picking up her screaming child and carrying her, legsdangling, past other parents gathered for pickup. Ms. McDermott says shelater learned that Andrea was feeling pain from her feeding tube.Through December or January, Ms. Gavern says she would have to pull Andreaout of school and take her home once or twice a week, usually in the latemorning. Ms. Gavern used to work as a property manager for the rental unitsshe owns with her husband, a real-estate agent. The couple had to hireothers to do her job, so she would be available to pick up Andrea. “Icouldn’t do anything because I was waiting by the phone,” Ms. Gavern says.Tensions grew between teacher and parent. Ms. Gavern says she becameconvinced that Ms. McDermott didn’t want Andrea in her class and, at a fallIEP meeting, expressed her concerns.”I don’t think she has the knowledge,” Ms. Gavern says of Ms. McDermott. “Idon’t think she has the support. It’s not entirely her fault. She wasoverwhelmed. The school system was not there to back her up. I blame them,too.”Ms. McDermott says she agrees with that assessment, adding that “the systemwas not set up for children like Andrea.”On May 3, Ms. McDermott planned an art project painting flower pots forMother’s Day. “Oh, no! Oh, no!” Andrea shouted, stamping her feet and wavingher arms, before being led out of the room. Andrea had wanted to spend moretime on the computer.With the art assignment finished, Andrea, dressed in an embroidered blouse,a pressed khaki skirt and pink sneakers, returned to her place in the backof the classroom, where she sat next to her mental-health aide. The twoworked on their own, while the class did a reading lesson.”Do you know six minus three?” her aide asked. “No!” Andrea replied. Withthe help of her attendant, Andrea copied the numbers 16, 19 and 20 from aworkbook. “Very nice 20,” her aide said.Later, Andrea briefly rejoined the class. Andrea raised her hand,volunteering to read a book out loud in front of the class. “All fall down,”Andrea read, clearly, though from a book simpler than those of herclassmates. “Good job!” Ms. McDermott told her.Despite such glimmers of hope, the Gaverns have given up on Scranton. Thismonth, due to their dissatisfaction with Andrea’s school, they sold theirhouse and moved to nearby Clarks Summit. The family had heard positivereports from other parents about the school system, which may put Andrea ina separate class for at least part of the day.”It just hasn’t worked out at all,” says Mr. Gavern, surrounded by packingboxes. “Inclusion sounds great on paper. But the [Scranton] school systemisn’t prepared.”With the school year just over, Ms. McDermott says she feels tremendousrelief, and the migraine headaches that once afflicted her almost weeklyhave disappeared. But she is still struggling with her own future. Ms.McDermott has decided to stay through the end of next year — her 31st as ateacher — when she can quit with full health benefits and start a newcareer.”It’s the end,” Ms. McDermott says. “I don’t have it in me any more. I usedto think I’d stay forever until they kicked me out. It’s sad. It’s too sad.”Write to John Hechinger at john.hechinger@ wsj.com3

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