Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cooking the Books vs Public Pressure

As the march to privatize public schools with privately run but publicly funded charter schools, the numbers give us a telling reason for the charter advocates' self described "wild successes."

They aren't serving as many special needs students as regular schools.

And from my experience in the RSD schools, the numbers on the top end are grossly underestimated. I guess that's what happens when students can go from school to school and their paperwork gets lost. Look at those numbers and read "paperwork-proven percentages." Our counselors couldn't keep up with the number of diagnoses necessary.

Undiagnosed and underserved special needs students' test results count for NCLB "accountability" ratings. Taking that into account, are charters' mildly more sucessful records really worth the amount of resources put into them? Remember, when it comes to government spending, I want serious return on my investment.

At least the attenion is working to some degree. Under public pressure and increasing scrutiy for the disparity, some charters are starting to address the issue. It is about time.



Dante said...

As a parent, I'd be far more likely to send my kids to school that doesn't worship at the altar of special education. You want to talk "return on investment?" How in the hell does it makes sense to shower that much money on a program that returns marginal results? I understand wanting to provide an education to all, but it's just silly how much money the government gives to educate kids with disabilities compared to kids without. I want a really real return on investment in public education. And dismantling our current special education system for one that spends money more sanely is a good place to start. Since that's not going to happen, I consider cutting out the needs-a-helmet variety of special needs and just catering to the milder special needs such as speech therapy or mild learning disabilities to be an admirable solution as long as the charters can get away with it.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Well, I don't think "worship at the altar of special education" is part of the problem. You're seeing this as a problem with too many resources going into a low return area, I see it as an issue of neglect. At least we both see the same issue at the root of public schools' effectiveness.

I want to see special education issues addressed, even the children who are helmet bound. But right now, we are not doing special education correctly. If the district is spending too much money on these students, what we need is an auditor, because not a lot of that money is making it to actual implementation.

Right now, if their parents cannot afford to send these children to private school, they are forced into a public system that supports special education in minimal amounts.

Records exist only on those students with the most extreme special needs or students with the most involved (in a good way or bad way) parents. Mild and even moderate special needs are difficult and time consuming to diagnose and refer - which is a systemic problem.

What support special education does have goes to the most extreme cases, forcing mild to moderate, and even severe in some cases, into the classroom with your on-level, below-level, and anti-social students without adequate academic support.

This means special needs students are not being serviced adequately by appropriately trained instructors; the burden of their education (including accountability testing) then falls to the regular classroom teachers who then cannot adequately instruct their on-level or below-level students.

Dante said...

Good luck with an audit. Every education audit I've witnessed or been a part of was one fox seeing if another fox was fit to guard the hen house.

"Records exist only on those students with the most extreme special needs or students with the most involved (in a good way or bad way) parents. Mild and even moderate special needs are difficult and time consuming to diagnose and refer - which is a systemic problem."

That must be an RSD-specific issue. Here in Georgia, I'm pretty sure they make Pez dispensers that shoot out IEPs. No rock is left unturned in the search for anyone who can get special ed counts up for a school district so that district can rake in more money from the state.

As an interesting aside, my son is now in speech class at our public preschool. Two months went by from the time they identified he had a problem until he got into the class. When did they finally get him in there? The Monday before special ed had to turn in numbers to the state for funding.

As another aside, right now there are likely to be layoffs in my wife's school district. The only teachers who aren't worried are the special ed teachers because they know that firing them would result in less money for the school system. When things are so bad that teachers have to go and the largest number of teachers teaching the fewest number of kids are the untouchable ones, then something is very wrong.

Special education in its current form at least in the state of Georgia is a sick joke of a cash cow even if you ignore the idiocy of academically integrated classrooms.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Sounds like Georgia is cookin' the books too, just with a different recipie. You're right that the problems I describe are RSD specific.

Having spoken to teachers from other Louisiana parishes, what they describe comes closer to your estimation of the situation. I remember the look on one of their faces when they asked me "but what is the real number of special education students you have?"

My answer: "probably closer to 30 percent. Most are not diagnosed." She was expecting the answer to be much lower.

Then again, the RSD is unique based on the national drive to open as many charter schools as possible. Which may explain that difference. Though I am sure other at-risk city school systems across the land have similar problems.

I know you and I agree that academic integration is highly problematic in current implementation. We both also see a problem with real diagnosis of special educational issues (overdiagnosis, underdiagnosis, incorrect diagnosis, diagnosis-for-funding). So there's a start.

I wonder when this nation will have a real conversation about special education?

Leigh C. said...

But OF COURSE they're not taking in special ed students. It's not good for the bottom line for the schools to be taking in kids who break the curve in a negative way. Then they won't be able to stay open because of things like one too many bad LEAP test scores.

patsbrother said...

(1) A kid with a speech problem is special ed? Seriously? I didn't really speak until I was 3 1/2 (or so I'm told): would that count?

(2) Cousin Pat, you bad influence, you. Other people now use the phrase "really real" without an outward appearance of affectation. You are a scourge on the written world. Soon I suppose others will start writing "noone" rather than "no one". You mangy word-cur, you.

Dante said...

I talked to my wife last night about the Special Ed situation. In Georgia, the state has this sort of magic number of Special Ed kids allowed based on district size. Once you go over that number, you can still get funding but the state does an "investigation" and while that is limited to the special ed program, districts who get "investigated" and come out ok just so happen to be targets of "random" audits the next year. So basically, you had better be damn sure your house is in order if you go over the magic number. Since "house in order" and "public school district" don't even fit in the same sentence, districts tend to fear that number if they're above it. So basically, the schools under that number inflate all they can to get to it and schools above that number do what they can to stay below it.

There is also another monkey wrench. That's your subgroup size. With Georgia's No Child Left Behind implementation (which should be fairly universal), students are broken up into subgroups and all of those subgroups must meet standardized testing requirements for your school to make AYP (adequate yearly progress). But if your subgroup is under a certain size, you don't have to count it towards AYP since it's statistically insignificant. So on the other extreme, there is a lot of subgroup shuffling to get subgroups exactly under the number needed to count towards AYP. And that could also lead to children not getting into the special ed program.

And 3 1/2? Yes, it would count. Speech service can start as young as 3 and still get federal and state funding. My personal opinion is that my son will probably grow out of his speech issues, but given how seriously speech impediments can impact your future, I'll take the help since it's available.