Archive for the 'Policy' Category

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Fletcher paper about identifying LD

The RTI Action Network published a paper by Jack Fletcher about identification of Learning Disabilities in the context of response to instruction (or intervention; RTI). Professor Fletcher, who has been a leading proponent of RTI since the 1990s, makes a strong case for the importance of examining instruction as a part of determining eligibility for LD services.
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MR is out in US federal law

On Tuesday 5 October, US President Barack Obama signed legislation called “Rosa’s Law” that requires the US government to discontinue using the term “mental retardation” and use “intellectual disability” instead. The headliner in this movement is a child from Maryland (US) named Rosa Marcellino who has Down Syndrome; she has promoted the effort and enlisted her state’s governor, blah, and senator, Barbara Mikulski, in the effort.

Read Michelle Diament’s report for Disability Scoop Obama Signs Bill Replacing ‘Mental Retardation’ With ‘Intellectual Disability’.

LD opinion survey: good news, bad news

For the fourth time, the Roper Public Affairs &’ Corporate Communications group has reported a survey of US opinion about Learning Disabilities to the Tremaine Foundation. Although the report is entitled “Measuring Progress in Public & Parental Understanding of Learning Disabilities,” it also includes data about the views of the general public, teachers, and school administrators. It’s worth reading the entire document, but here are a few notes to whet the appetite.
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Is LD viable?

Panelists for DLD showcase 2010 in Nashville
L-to-R: T. Scruggs (foreground), D. Fuchs, M. Gerber,
and N. Zigmond

At the behest of Rollanda O’Connor, Dan Hallahan gathered four informed people—Naomi Zigmond, Tom Scruggs, Mike Gerber, and Doug Fuchs—to address this question: “The LD Construct: Can it be Saved? Is it Worth Saving?” The discussion, which was held at the annual international convention of the Council for Exceptional Children, as a product of the Division for Learning Disabilities (DLD). Of course, I’m biased (I am compensated as the executive director for DLD), but I have to say that this was a top-notch event.

These advocates agreed that there really is something to LD. They argued clearly and effectively that educators need to reconsider the construct of LD; focus on individual students needs; the needs of those students can (in fact) be discriminated from others who have low achievement; that there’s lots of good to response to instruction (or intervention), but it’s neither likely to address all the learning problems students experience nor identify those who need additional services; and that those students may need instruction that is radically different from what they can get in general education settings.

There’s lots more to what they had to say, and I hope TeachingLD can capture and disseminate it. If so, I’ll relate it here.

Update: NJ gov. signs law creating dyslexia task force.

As reported earlier on LD Blog under the headline “New Jersey task force on reading disabilities created, seventh-grader Samantha Ravelli, of Ocean City (NJ, US), is having effects on public policy. The Associated Press reported 17 January 2010 that the law she lobbied her legislators to pass has been signed by the Governor of New Jersey.

Legislation inspired by an Ocean City girl who overcame severe dyslexia has been signed into law in New Jersey.
The measure creates a reading disabilities task force, which would help determine the best methods for diagnosing, treating and educating special needs students. The 13-member panel will include the state commissioners of education and human resources, four legislators and seven members of the public.

Now that this panel is law, let’s hope the folks who become members of the panel will take the sensible step of drawing from evidence-based practices in making recommendations for reading instruction in New Jersey. Read the Associated Press story, “ N.J. measure will benefit reading-disabled students.”

New Jersey task force on reading disabilities created

Seventh grader Samantha Ravelli, of Ocean City (NJ, US), is probably one of the youngest lobbyists who ever tasted success. According to Diane D’Amico of the Press of Atlantic City, Sammie (and her team, including her mother and sister) convinced their legislature to form the New Jersey Reading Disabilities Task Force.

Sammie has substantial reading problems, and her contacts with legislators inspired them to draft legislation creating the task force. Assemblymen Nelson Albano and Matt Milam and state Senator Jeff Van Drew collaborated to get it passed. It cleared the assembly in February and the senate in December 2009.

As a part of their efforts to promote awareness of dyslexia and to encourage legislators to create the task force, the Ravellis created Sammie’s Mission. Visit it and also read Ms. D’Amico’s blog post How Sammies’s dyslexia inspired a law and her news story, State Senate approves bill to form reading disabilities task force, about the events. Finally, snag a pdf of “An Act establishing the New Jersey Reading Disabilities Task Force.”

Is inclusion right for your child?

Over on LD Experience, Kathryn Burke posted an editorial recounting some of her experiences as a parent of children with Learning Disabilities who must weigh placement alternatives. She describes an encounter with another parent who disagreed with her decision to place her elder son in a specialized school.

A parent from my son’s school, who had not heard about the lecture from me, came to greet me and ask if I could put her name on the “special education distribution list.” Another woman overheard our discussion and asked about the list, how it had started, and if she could join. I told her that I had assembled the email list from the names of individuals who had been present at events organized by the Parent Council at my son’s school, of which I was a member of the executive. I explained that the school was a specialized site within the public system for students with learning disabilities. Upon hearing this, the woman looked at me with a level of disgust as if I had grown horns, and loudly said, “I will have absolutely nothing to do with people who believe that children with disabilities should be segregated!”

Continue reading ‘Is inclusion right for your child?’

Vouchers and identification rates

Over on the Web site of the Manhattan Institute under the headline, “How Special Ed Vouchers Keep Kids From Being Mislabeled as Disabled,” Marcus Winters and Jay Greene published an article reporting their analysis of Florida’s McKay vouchers program. They report that, schools that have nearby voucher-accepting private schools, the incidence of children identified as having Specific Learning Disability (SLD) is inversely correlated with the number of neighboring private schools.

The question examined in this report is whether special-education voucher programs change the likelihood that students will be diagnosed with an SLD. Voucher programs allow disabled students to attend a private school, which receives payments in the form of full or partial tuition that would have otherwise been directed to the transferring student’s public school. Special-education voucher programs appear to reduce a local public school’s financial incentive to diagnose a marginal student who is merely struggling academically as suffering from an SLD by offering him the chance to leave the public school, enter a private school, and take all of his funding with him.

I hope to get a chance to provide a more detailed analysis of the report. Other tasks require immediate action on my part, though. I’d welcome comments from others who have the time to examine the report.

Link to the article by Mr. Winters and Mr. Greene.

Miguel might show us what’s wrong

Under the headline, “Age-Old Problem, Perpetually Absent Solution: Fitting Special Education to Students’ Needs” in the Washington Post, Jay Mathews writes about the case of Miguel Landeros:

Miguel Landeros is a lanky, well-spoken 12-year-old about to begin seventh grade in Stafford County. He is severely learning disabled, with reading, writing and math skill levels at least two years below his peers, and needs special teaching, according to a licensed clinical psychologist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore and other specialists.

Last February, Stafford officials refused to accept that evaluation and left him in regular classes. He performed poorly, failing all core subjects. Recently, they promised to give him more specialized services, but not the ones the experts who examined him say he needs.

I admit that education writers in general, and I in particular, write very little about learning disabilities and the many failures of federally mandated public school programs to help students who have them. I often say the cases are so complicated I have difficulty translating them into everyday language, and even then readers struggle to understand.

Mr. Mathews’ admission of a lack of understanding about special education (in general) and Learning Disabilities (in particular) is unsurprising to me. Not only is there a lot to know (and, sadly, too often educators do not even know what there is to know), but lots of people who view educational issues through the lenses of finance, policy, and social justice simply don’t get (a) the evidence available about effective educational practices and (b) the personal side of education.

Had Miguel had early access to effective instructional practices, which have usually been more readily available in special education, during his early years of schooling, he probably would have at less substantial problems as he moves into middle school. Special education has been education’s reservoir for research about effective teaching methods over the past 20-30 years.

Dan Hallahan and I cited a series of innovations that emanated from LD (e.g., systematic monitoring of progress, explicit instruction in strategies for solving academic tasks) and are now widely adopted in education. In Michael Gerber’s memorable phrase, Learning Disabilities served as blue-green algae for education, forcing us to abandon antiquated notions of classification and instruction and move toward more flexible perspectives, just as blue-green algae precipitated a change from Linnaean taxonomy to classification based on evolution.

The case of Miguel illustrates how educators reject reasonable and evidence-based methods in favor of ideologically driven policies. In place of employing powerful instructional practices and adapting instruction to individuals, schools too often explain away students’ difficulties. They make what amount to excuses!

I have not seen the thick sheaf of papers that Miguel’s mother sent to Mr. Mathews, so I don’t know if that folder contains any of the following excuses for not serving Miguel. I suspect, however, that Kelli Castellino (Miguel’s mother) has heard some of them, and likely others:

  • “He’s just a boy; they mature differently”;
  • “He’ll get it when he decides to put his mind to it”;
  • “We don’t want him to have the stigma of special education”;
  • “He just needs a little extra time to finish things”;
  • “We can’t give every child a Cadillac education.”

(Parents and teachers, please feel free to add other examples to this list. Just drop ’em in the comments.)

In addition to the excuses, we educators often let ideology and half-truths trump the individual needs of children, which puts us at odds with parents. The innovation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was considering students with disabilities as individuals. Based on the unique educational needs of those students determined to be eligible, educators and parents are supposed to develop individualized education programs.

I suspect that Ms. Castellino also heard that (a) the least restrictive environment is a critical concern, (b) inclusion is the approach recommended by experts, (c) accommodations are all most students really need, (d) special education identification processes are subjective and arbitrary, (e) half of the students with LD don’t really have true disabilities, and more.

Many special educators, especially those in administrative positions, seem to have bought the idea that including everyone in general education is the goal. They point to the lesser outcomes for students with disabilities (e.g., higher failure rates on competency tests and greater chances of under- and unemployment after school, just to name a couple) and argue that those results are caused by special education’s separatistic and ineffective ways. For some unknown reason, they forget that there must have been something unique about the students that contributed to them being identified in the first place.

They also ignore the fact that some of the early, ardent advocates of inclusion have recanted. Take, for example, Mary Warnock’s change of position, as noted in this entry over on Teach Effectively:

Mary Warnock, the individual most responsible for promoting inclusionary policies and practices in Britain, has said that the effort to include students with disabilities in mainstream schools has “Has gone too far. It was a sort of bright idea of the 1970s but by now it has become a kind of mantra and it really isn’t working.”

For some students, inclusive schooling is just fine, but when it becomes the de facto standard, then it butts heads directly with IDEA’s foundational idea: individualization. When inclusion is invoked in cases such as Miguel’s, ideology trumps reason.

Mr. Matthews wondered whether a charter school for students with LD would be a solution. I suspect that one based on evidence about effective instructional procedures and practices (and there is plenty of research documenting them) would be beneficial for those students. But, those same methods could be put into practice in the public schools. A major impediment to doing so, in my estimation, is our current emphasis on how special education is something to be avoided, that it’s broken, wrong, misguided, and undesirable.

Another reason that the charter might work is that it might be freed from the shackles of ideologically-driven education. But I can already hear the howls about how awful such a school would be. The ideologues would complain that it was separatist, inconsistent with the real world, too expensive, and so forth.

Link to Mr. Matthews’ article.

Gerber, M. (2000). An appreciation of learning disabilities: The value of blue-green algae. Exceptionality, 8, 29-42.

Lloyd, J. W., & Hallahan, D. P. (2005). Going forward: How the field of learning disabilities has and will contribute to education. Learning Disability Quarterly, 28, 133-136.

JLD on professional development


JLD cover

The Journal of Learning Disabilities for September-October 2009 features a special series of articles about the teaching of reading teaching. Issue editors R. Malatesha Joshi and Anne E. Cunningham put together a set of articles by stellar authorities in the area of reading to examine “Perceptions and Reality: What We Know About the Quality of Literacy Instruction.”

Moats, L. (2009). Still wanted: Teachers with knowledge of language. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 42, 387-391.

Joshi, R. M., Binks, E., Hougen, M., Dahlgren M. E., Ocker-Dean, E., & Smith, D. L. (2009). Why elementary teachers might be inadequately prepared to teach reading. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 42, 392-402.[Link]

Podhajski, B., Mather, N., Nathan, J., & Sammons, J. (2009). Professional development in scientifically based reading instruction: Teacher knowledge and reading outcomes Journal of Learning Disabilities, 42, 403-417. [Link]

Cunningham, A. E., Zibulsky, J., Stanovich, K. E., & Stanovich, P. J. (2009). How teachers would spend their time teaching language arts: The mismatch between self-reported and best practices. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 42, 418-430. [Link]

Spear-Swerling, L. (2009). A literacy tutoring experience for prospective special educators and struggling second graders. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 42, 431-443. [Link]

Kaiser, L., Rosenfield, S., & Gravois, T. (2009). Teachers’ perception of satisfaction, skill development, and skill application after instructional consultation services. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 42, 444-457.[Link]

Joshi, R. M., Binks, E., Graham, L., Ocker-Dean, E., Smith, D. L., & Boulware-Gooden, R. (2009). Do textbooks used in university reading education courses conform to the instructional recommendations of the National Reading Panel? Journal of Learning Disabilities, 42, 458-463. [Link]

Stotsky, S. (2009). Licensure tests for special education teachers: How well they assess knowledge of reading instruction and mathematics. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 42, 464-474. [Link]

Lyon, G. R., & Weiser, B. (2009). Teacher knowledge, instructional expertise, and the development of reading proficiency. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 42, 475-480.[Link]