Tag Archive for 'law'

Yet another “learning disability” as the generic

In an otherwise very important and impressive story, reporter Perry Stein of the Washington (DC, US) Post mis-uses “learning disability” as a generic term. Ms. Stein’s article is about a judge holding that the Washington DC public schools have failed to conduct appropriate child find efforts for preschool children with disabilities. Near the end of the article Ms. Stein added this paragraph about an expert’s commentary:

Judith Sandalow, the executive director of the Children’s Law Center, celebrated the decision and said she constantly sees children who are several grades behind in school whom the city has not yet identified as having a learning disability.

There’s that too-familiar confusion of the category of learning disability with the superordinate group of individuals with disabilities who need special education, a group that includes autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, mental retardation (i.e., intellectual disabilities), multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairments, specific learning disability, speech or language impairments, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairment including blindness (Code of Federal Regulations 34 B III 300 A §300.8.)

Was it Ms. Sandalow who used “learning disability” as a generic or did Ms. Stein attribute it to her? Either way, it’s a mistake.

Nevertheless, if one is concerned about special education, I recommend this article. It appears to me to show another example of how schools are failing to provide appropriate and needed services. There is an irony that the case about which Ms. Stein wrote continues to be heard that in the same city where Mills v. Board of Education was contested. In 1972, Mills was one of the cases that led to the founding of the very laws that this judge is seeking to enforce almost 45 years later.

The House should support Resolution 456

U.S. Representative Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, with the support of Representative Julia Brownley of California, introduced a resolution to the U.S. House of Representatives 10 January 2014 calling on “State and local educational agencies to recognize that dyslexia has significant educational implications that must be addressed.” The resolution, which was foreshadowed by a kick-off event by the Congressional Dyslexia Caucus in November of 2013, is drawing support around the Internet, as it should, from diverse sources:

  • Sally and Bennett Shaywitz, noted advocates and researchers on dyslexia, posted a notice on their site, Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, and published a guest editorial in the influential political news source, The Hill calling for support of the resolution.
  • Pete and Pam Wright of Wrightslaw, the widely esteemed site for legal information about students with disabilities, lent their support to the effort, recommending constituents contact their representatives.
  • Over on Barto’s World (long-time connection with LD Blog), Amy Barto posted an entry pointing to the Yale Center’s and Wrightslaw’s pages.
  • Over on High Expectations Advocacy, Sandra Fitzpatrick posted a blog entry pointing to the Yale Center post and recommending that people contact their own representatives to encourage those legislators to support the resolution.
  • Joan Brennan, at Help for Struggling Readers provided a message of support including some useful links (along with some links to her own product).

Dyslexia is the most common reason that students are identified as having learning disabilities in the US. It is, indeed, a problem that deserves very careful consideration and systematic, evidence-based treatment. Even though some may glamorize it and others may ignore it, I agree that the most appropriate course of action is to recognize it and empower schools (and others) to address it effectively and humanely.

Readers interested in obtaining a PDF copy of the full resolution can download one.

Testing fraud of a different sort

In a puzzling case of a student who appears to have had problems throughout the primary grades and did not get help until fourth grade, Liz Ditz asks the question, How Often Does This Happen? Teacher accused of testing fraud to avoid special education referral for her student. Not until the parents had pushed for years were the child’s problems recognized. Was this a well-meaning, but misguided teacher? Has anti-LD sentiment become so strong that folks cheat to keep kids from having the label?

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.
Continue reading ‘Fletcher paper about identifying LD’

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.”

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.

Volunteers, teachers, and evidence-based instruction

Over on WrightsLaw, Sue Whitney (one of the folks affiliated with Pete and Pam Wright) use this headline for a story: “Parent Volunteers are NOT a Substitute for Trained Teachers: New DOE Regulations Released.” Ms. Whitney’s got the right idea in that headline, but I’d like to shade it just a bit.

Please permit me to amplify. Parent volunteers are not a substitute for trained teachers, but trained teachers are not a substitute for people using scientifically validated instructional programs faithfully. So, if I was given a choice between a parent volunteer who, with fidelity to the training, is implementing a good curriculum and a teacher who’s doing the hit-or-miss method (such as apparently passes for training in reading instruction in many of the US teacher education colleges), I’d go for the parent volunteer.

Link to Ms. Whitney’s brief piece.

Eligibility survey of US states

Project Forum, a group that works to inform policy makers and administrators about special education issues, has announced the release of a document about US states’ policies on eligibility for special education of students with Learning Disabilities. The Project Forum paper, which was prepared by Eileen M. Ahearn of Project Forum under a Federal Cooperative Agreement, documents status and change in how states determine eligibility.
Continue reading ‘Eligibility survey of US states’

Welcome Pete and Pam

Pete and Pam Wright recently launched a blog, so let’s welcome them to the neighborhood. Their contributions via the rapidly changing form of blogs promise to be helpful. You can read the blog on the Web or, of course, subscribe to it with your favorite RSS reader.

Flash of the electrons to Christina Samuels of On Special Education for alerting me to this.