kitchen table math, the sequel: Eastchester School District protests special education mandates

Friday, April 13, 2012

Eastchester School District protests special education mandates

Letter to Representatives Regarding Mandate Relief

4000 signatures, I'm told.

Our schools, having grown the numbers of children who 'qualify' for 'services,' now complain that these kids cost too much.

Well, yes. Bad education costs more. Hiring "literacy specialists" to provide Tier 2 intervention to 20% of your grade school population is more expensive than hiring one special education teacher to teach the 5% (or so) who would be struggling if the school used a valid "Scientifically Based Reading Research" program.

But no one's ever worried about that in the past, not that I've heard, and no one's bringing it up today, either. The problem is the mandates, not the teaching, not the curriculum, not the ideology.

Eastchester has misdiagnosed its budget problem, in any event. Eastchester's budget problem is the same as Irvington's budget problem is the same as every other NY school district's budget problem: thanks to the Triborough Amendment, our union contracts oblige us to pay an annual rate of increase in compensation that exceeds the two percent tax cap. The contracts break the tax cap before we even get to budget season, and all the rest is sidebar. But nobody seems to understand this as yet.

Here in Irvington, although some of us do realize that the contract violates the tax cap (a friend laid it out for me), nobody knows by how much the contract exceeds the tax cap. The Chair of the Budget Task Force has asked the question, but no one has answered the question, or even acknowledged the question. What is our projected rate of increase? That is what we need to know.

But instead of being apprised of what our situation actually is, we're told that the new contract is "fair and equitable" for the union and "fiscally responsible" for the taxpayers, with 1.75% "increments" and two new "half-steps" and a limit on "column movement" and the like, and these are all good things. But what it all adds up to, no one is saying. There is an elephant in the room.

The problem is the contract, and the contract is the union, and nobody wants to say boo to the union.

So Eastchester has decided to say boo to the parents of children with special needs instead.


Catherine Johnson said...

I'm trying to work this through in my mind.

How do SPED parents react to this? (I know how I react - )

Their children have been singled out as uniquely costly and burdensome, their programs characterized as "outdated." And 4000 of their friends and neighbors, in a town of 19000, signed.

Push has come to shove.

noiln said...

Permutations definition
What is a permutation? , define Permutation, why we use permutation?

Anonymous said...

"Their children have been singled out as uniquely costly..."

But their children *ARE* uniquely costly (or at least additionally costly), aren't they? The SPED kids get more money per year spent on them than the non-SPED kids?

"Push has come to shove."

As it usually does when the money runs out ... :-(

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

In another era, many special ed kids would have been institutionalized if there was no where for them to go to school. Our high school has classes filled with kids that can absolutely not live on their own or function in society with any independence.

Even factoring in special aides and small classes, it must be cheaper to just send them to school for the day, then house them 24/7.


kcab said...

Maybe it is just easier to turn SPED kids into 'other' than it is teachers? After all, everyone in town probably knows a teacher or two and may not know which kids are getting additional help (costly or not).

Or, parents can't protest anything having to do with teachers because their kids are hostages to the system? (I'm somewhat joking here, but I do think that having children in the schools could be a deterrent to taking a public stand against something teachers want.)

In the end, at least the special ed kids have some legal protection. Probably everyone else is going to lose, or everyone except teachers. Though, I have to say that the teachers in my extended family don't seem to have these generous pensions that I hear about. I'm not sure why that is the case, maybe they are just too old and the benefits weren't good in their era.

palisadesk said...

"Though, I have to say that the teachers in my extended family don't seem to have these generous pensions that I hear about. I'm not sure why that is the case..."

It's probably because conditions are so variable across the country. Catherine has pointed out that many or all New York State districts have unusually generous salary and pension plans, including medical plans after retirement. Several New England states (and doubtless others in different parts of the country) are also examples of "Cadillac" teacher wages and benefits.

But these aren't by any stretch of the imagination universal. There are districts where teachers with children qualify for food stamps, and where teachers with extensive specialization and experience make under $50 000 after 20+ years, and whose pensions provide only enough to live on if they reside in a trailer park or very low cost-of-living situation, or (as is fortunately the case for those I know in this situation) married to someone in the private sector who makes significantly more money. Most teacher pensions that I am aware of (outside of Catherine's examples) do NOT provide health benefits to retirees, nor anything like 70% of salary. I was recently talking with some teachers from two large PA districts who both were concerned about medical costs after retirement (because they get no health plan once they leave).

Since many or most of these benefit and salary packages are negotiated locally, and state and district budgets and requirements are widely disparate, it's likely that regional variation accounts for many differences.

The New York situation boggles my mind.

ChemProf said...

In California, it really matters when you retired. My father retired from working in city government a decade ago. His pension is around 30K. My mother is still working as a teacher, and her pension will be more like 80K. They both started working for their employers in the early 1960's, and my mom worked part-time through most of the 1970's. Honestly, it is probably costing her money to go to work.

The unions negotiated big pension increases for future retirees in the late 90s, and the costs are coming up now. Now they'll make arguments about the average pension, leaving out the fact that those who retired in the last decade, who often retired early and will stay retired a long time, are getting a much better deal than earlier retirees.

Catherine Johnson said...

But their children *ARE* uniquely costly

SPED children are more costly on the whole, but that's not my point.

My point is that it's unkind - and quite threatening - for a District to formally say so and to invite parents of normal children to sign a statement agreeing with the board and administration that special ed children cost too much.

This petition, the writing of it, the public posting of it, and the soliciting of signatures from parents who have had the good fortune to give birth to normal children, is an ugly act.

Remember, Mark, the people who wrote and posted this letter are ***not*** libertarians.

Not by a long shot.

Catherine Johnson said...

Even factoring in special aides and small classes, it must be cheaper to just send them to school for the day, then house them 24/7.

Good point.

I wonder what the comparison is?

Teachers here are paid so much that Jimmy's group home could conceivably cost less than his years in school here.

Catherine Johnson said...

Also, when it comes to costly, academically talented kids are next on the chopping block (as I think lgm has pointed out on numerous occasions).

That's an issue here. We have a rule against running classes with fewer than .... 12 kids (?) I don't remember the exact figure.

That rule means that the 10 kids who can handle AP French lose AP French. (There's an issue with AP Physics or Honors Physics, too.)

Of course, as with all of these issues, if the school held itself accountable for results, we'd have a lot more kids taking AP French and Honors Physics.

Same with SPED: my district, like every district, creates SPED kids who wouldn't have been SPED kids if they'd had an effective reading curriculum or structured classrooms and assignments with interim assessments.

Sloppy constructivist teaching & curriculum is very, very expensive.

Sloppy constructivism means more kids in SPED, and that means more spending.

Catherine Johnson said...

The NY situation is absolutely staggering - and terrifying to those of us who aren't in the public sector. I don't have a pension, Ed doesn't have a pension, AND we have to pay for all the pensions and health care of people younger than we are who are retired.

Teachers my age in our district did not save for retirement (beyond the first couple of years of their employment - not sure about that), contributed nothing to their health care, and have 100% first-dollar coverage for themselves and their spouses for life. After retirement they make .... is it 80% of the highest years of earning?

Their last two years are padded with lots of extracurriculars and clubs, etc, so that 80% comes close to their normal pay without the padding.

The state website actually explains to teachers how to spike their pensions, or it did the last I checked.

It tells teachers, directly, to take on many stipended jobs at the ends of their careers because their pensions will be based on those final two years.

The most recent estimate I've seen is that a teacher who lives to his/her 80s receives retirement payments (pension & health care) in the neighborhood of $3 million dollars.

Three million dollars.

That money is paid by people who don't have pensions - and who need to save for (or fund) their own retirements.

Catherine Johnson said...

chemprof - what was going on in the late 90s - ? (I should know this...)

I'm not sure how things got so bad here.

I'm sure there's an incremental (compounding) problem caused by Triborough.

With the Triborough Amendment, union contracts can **only** get richer. (That's not true for all public sector union contracts, but it's true for teachers &, I would say, for police/fire...)

The union never has to agree to lower terms because the old contract never expires.

With teacher contracts things are particularly dire because you have school boards filled with parents who have children currently in school.

I know I posted this here or elsewhere, but a board member who served 6 years told me: "We're parents. We can't deal with unions."

That is almost a direct quote.

This woman is running again, I hear, and I assume she has a good chance of winning.

In fact, I assume she has a very good chance of defeating my candidate.

Catherine Johnson said...

Educators ignore those distinctions because the workplace model doesn't drive their choice of educational pedagogy.

The other thing is that these people, as far as I can tell, **aren't** collaborating.

I'm reading Bambrick-Santoyo's book on Data-driven instruction finally, and data-driven instruction is **all** about collaboration, and the collaboration is real, serious, and rigorous.

IT is performed inside a conference room, not inside the classroom.

Catherine Johnson said...

Here's something that interests me.

First of all, politics is all about organization. That's why the unions are so powerful: it's not just the numbers, it's the organization.

Parents aren't organized, so we're weak - even though we have the numbers. (And, yes, parents are quite divided at the micro, local level, BUT .... there are obviously issues parents can - and do - organize around, such as class size, math, foreign language instruction in early grades, etc.)

So....if you think about Eastchester's move from that angle, what is the ONE group of American parents who actually are organized?

SPED parents.

We have organizations; we have websites; we have social connections across parents & social capital....and we have been 'brought up' to believe that we have an entitlement to services. Structurally, legally, SPED is an adversarial system; it is **created** as an adversarial system. The parent is the child's advocate; the parent is **supposed** to be the child's advocate.

General ed parents are supposed to stay out of things; we SPED parents are supposed to advocate.

An aside: I always thought that probably the reason Ed and I were so difficult for the district, and so active in our advocacy for Chris, was that we 'came up' through the SPED system. We had spent years of our lives advocating for our SPED children; that's what we did; that's what we knew. Advocacy was normal for us, and I wonder whether we knew, at first, just how aberrant our actions were for parents of a typical child.

Anyway, back on topic: Eastchester has chosen to challenge the ONLY group of parents who are used to fighting -- the only group of parents who are organized to fight.

Catherine Johnson said...

One more thing.

I didn't post this, but I'll probably get to it.

The Eastchester letter includes a line saying that SPED mandates are "outdated."

I'm sure that means SPED mandates on class size for very disabled kids, at least in part. (Jimmy & Andrew have an entitlement to a particular staffing ratio - and perhaps to a class size as well, although perhaps it's not formulated that way. It's probably just a staffing ratio.)

That staffing ratio guarantees, at least in many cases, that kids like mine, who are **very** challenging (and I believe should not be fully included because they are too disruptive) can be placed in small classrooms (with walls)!

Dollars to donuts, Eastchester has posted -- and regular education parents have signed -- a letter that promotes what a behavior specialist once called 'radical inclusion.'

Under the logic of Eastchester's letter, the most disruptive and emotionally volatile SPED kids - the ones who actually do cost a great deal to educate - will be placed inside classrooms with all the regular-ed kids and instruction will be 'differentiated.'

I'm pretty sure the 4000 regular-ed parents/taxpayers who signed that petition didn't suspect they were signing up for kids like mine to be put inside the regular classroom.

kcab said...

@chemprof - I think the California retirement timing explains the situation of the retired teachers I know best. They can't afford even to live in a trailer park.

@Catherine - I'm sure you're right that academically talented kids are next to be targeted. Usually they are hit before SPED. I'm surprised to hear of AP being cut though, and surprised the enrollment in AP classes is so low.

kcab said...

The parent is the child's advocate; the parent is **supposed** to be the child's advocate.

General ed parents are supposed to stay out of things; we SPED parents are supposed to advocate.

Interesting, I definitely did not have the impression that non-SPED parents were supposed to stay out of things. I heard instead that it was my job to be my children's advocate, since there was no one else who was going to do it. I think I've even heard it from school personnel in both districts where my kids have attended schools.

Catherine Johnson said...

I definitely did not have the impression that non-SPED parents were supposed to stay out of things


I think you've told me before, but I've forgotten --- where are you? (Unless that's too revealing.)

There really is a big difference in the different cultures of schools & school districts.

In my district, the narrative is 'pushy parents,' 'helicopter parents,' etc.

Plus we had a top-down authoritarian superintendent who demanded that we all 'respect the chain of command.'

Parents were at the bottom of the chain.

Catherine Johnson said...

I could be wrong - my experience could be specific to my district OR to districts with a lot of activist, well-educated parents who **do** weigh in a lot --

Catherine Johnson said...

kcab - The Eastchester letter is sui generic -- it's a big surprise to me. Special education is a third rail, and they've posted a letter saying "These kids cost too much."

So.... I don't know what we can conclude from that yet.

The Eastchester letter is specifically directed to Albany; that's the focus these days: unfunded mandates.

Albany makes us do stuff and then doesn't give us the money to do it.

EVERYONE is agitating for 'mandate relief,' including a new group here in NY state, which I've been involved with from the start: Best4NY. They've now got a petition up asking for mandate relief.

I think my position is becoming clear: I'm probably off the boat for "mandate relief" per se.

I want repeal of Triborough.

(Fine with me if they repeal Taylor Law, too. In fact, I'd like repeal of Taylor, I think.)

For anyone who's curious: the situation with Taylor Law & Triborough is that Taylor Law makes it illegal for public sector unions to strike, and Triborough makes it illegal for employers to stop honoring an expired contract until the new one is signed.

Employers got the worst of that deal - especially in a depressed economy, where we have to continue to pay raises negotiated during a boom.

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm going to cite STICKY WAGES again.

The entire issue is that nominal wages are sacrosanct: they can go up, but they can't go down.

When the economy goes down, you have to lay people off because you have less money to pay employees but you can't solve that problem by reducing wages.

"Mandate relief," as people are thinking of it, simply means more layoffs. Eastchester wants Albany to give the OK to lay off SPED teachers so they can carry on paying the same salaries and raises to the people who get to keep their jobs.

I'm not particularly in favor of layoffs ... I'm in favor of everyone's compensation being scaled back so everyone can stay on the job.

That is so unthinkable that it is actually possible to post a public petition asking Albany for "mandate relief" from special ed mandates.

Catherine Johnson said...


We need a law (I say that with irony) requiring that people actually spell out what they're talking about.

What, EXACTLY, is Eastchester talking about?

They should be required to write, in the letter, "We would like Albany to pass laws that let us fire enough special ed teachers to stay within the tax cap."

You'd still get people signing (which is fine - people are entitled to their opinions), but you'd have a whole lot less people signing, and the people who signed would know what they were signing FOR.

(I'm kidding about needing a law, but I do think the principle is good. Euphemism and jargon are not our friends in these times.)

Catherine Johnson said...

kcab - we're a tiny district (1800 kids), so filling a lot of AP classes isn't necessarily easy --- but, even so, we'd have lots more kids in AP or Honors physics if we were data-driven & accountable, etc.

Our high school is a classic sorting machine.

Well, if you want kids to fill a class, you're gonna need to stop picking winners and start creating winners, as Richard DuFour would say.

ChemProf said...

The 1990's were the dot com boom, and CalPers (the pension fund, which is actually very politically powerful itself) and the unions convinced the California legislature that they could raise benefits without costing anything because the value of the pension fund was rising quickly. However, once the pension fund stopped growing, cities were on the hook for the extra money. And because of the weird way California redistributes property taxes, that really means the state is on the hook.

At the same time, they set minimum ages for retirement lower. Initially, the argument was specific to front line safety officers, but of course once retirement at 50 is possible, the definition of "front line" spreads out.

ChemProf said...

A thought on whether or not Gen Ed parents are supposed to advocate for their kids -- I think part of the disconnect between Catherine and kcab has to do with IEPs. Gen Ed parents might want to advocate for their child, but they don't have a right (and even an obligation) to sit down with the school once a year and figure out the best way to proceed. And if the school isn't serving their child well, they don't have any legal recourse while a SPED parent does (for what it is worth). So while both are advocates, that means something different in the two cases.

Catherine Johnson said...

oh right, right, right!

How could I forget?

I **think** (don't know) that the housing boom (and Wall Street boom) accomplished something similar here. School spending in Westchester doubled in 10 years -- AND that can't be rolled back under the logic lf Triborough (and the Iron Law of sticky wages, of course).

I was talking to my school board friend today, bugging her about sticky wages. She working in finance, but hadn't given sticky ages a lot of thought - and doesn't know much about economics per se.

She instantly reminded me that she herself was laid off from Citi during a recession, along with 40,000 other workers --

The people who kept their jobs kept their salaries and (presumably) their raises, and Citi hired new people at lower wages.

It is simply not possible to reduce the wages of an existing worker.

I saw a study of peasants in India who had 'sticky wages' in fact; it was some kind of natural experiment involving drought ....

Catherine Johnson said...

otoh, I read, in the WSJ, about a Midwestern company that has never laid off a single worker in any downturn (including the Depression, I think).

When recessions hit, everyone's compensation goes down, and everyone keeps working.

The result of this core violation of Wage Stickery is that the company has lasted for a very long time and has very loyal employees.

So I have to think that one **could** arrange things so that everyone expects to make downward adjustments down as well as upward -----

But certainly no one here is thinking in those terms.

It's all about layoffs and cuts, which amount to the same thing, so that people who keep their jobs can keep their raises.

(I don't say that as a moral judgment, although I know it sounds that way.)

Catherine Johnson said...

I can SOOOOO see why unions negotiated first-in-last-out clauses, given sticky wages.

THE simplest way to deal with a downturn is to fire the expensive middle-aged people and hire the cheap young people, which is what public employers used to do, and what private employers can do today.

kcab said...

I'm in CT, near New Haven. Not in one of the well-to-do, high achieving districts and not in New Haven itself. Previously we lived in New Hampshire, in a fairly high income area of the state. I don't think either district is characterized by pushy parents, though there are some in both, and both districts are larger than yours. I think both have around 7000 students K-12. The district cultures have *not* been autocratic, for the most part.

I think, here in CT, we do have the right to request a PPT meeting, not the same as a yearly IEP meeting. (I forget what PPT stands for, pupil personnel team, perhaps?) I'm not sure if that is because GT kids fall under special ed in CT or for some more general reason, but it's what we were told. No legal rights to accommodation of any kind. Asking if I should formally request a PPT meeting resulted in a meeting being held. Since then, there have been yearly (or more frequent) meetings to discuss how things went and what the plan is for the next year, but much more informal and haven't needed the huge panoply of personnel again. So, I don't know if this is because of a legal difference between the states or a difference in the districts, or another factor entirely.

I may just have grown up with a different perception because my parents did quite a bit of advocacy with the school on my behalf. They told all of my siblings that we should expect to have to do the same and that it was not unusual to do so. They both spent some time as public school administrators, so I've used their advice in this area.

Barry Garelick said...

And if the school isn't serving their child well, they don't have any legal recourse while a SPED parent does (for what it is worth).

Exactly right. Which is why SPED laws are outdated--they should apply to general education students who are being forced to learn via constructivist techniques. And actually, as Catherine points out, some kids do get diagnosed with Learning Disabilities because of ineffective instruction. That's why Response to Interventions (RtI's) were started. If a student is struggling, the school can pull a student out and give that student an intervention, which (as I wrote in an article that caused many people to call me names) consists of explicit instruction and techniques used in traditional education that have been derided by educationists as being out of date.

So Catherine raises an excellent point. Start teaching students using textbooks and techniques that work, so that IEP's are given for students who really neeed them.

Catherine Johnson said...

oh - I think your experience is a bit unique, same as mine, but for different reasons (having administrator parents)

On the other hand, I believe pretty strongly - until I'm proven wrong, that is - that high-SES school districts are worse than middle-income districts.

I believe that districts like mine are more high-handed & unresponsive.

No matter what my district does or does not do, the scores are always high - and the district takes credit.

Needless to say, no one wants to hear from a pushy parent whose child **is** doing well by national standards that he or she ought to be doing a whole lot better,

kcab said...

On the other hand, I believe pretty strongly - until I'm proven wrong, that is - that high-SES school districts are worse than middle-income districts.

Yeah, I have the same impression. Though, knowing that there are lots of kids in the school with much greater needs makes me reluctant to ask for too much. I don't feel guilty at all asking for acceleration but wouldn't want to ask the school to spend much money.

lgm said...

In my area the sped cost reduction is being pitched as the elimination of (unfunded) state imposed mandates that are not req'd by federal law.

This school year sped costs were reigned in by shared services..sped students had to share a bus and an aide to their out-of-district day placement where in the past they had service from their curb to the school and back. Sped transport is high here because of all the out-of-district placements...the athletic program is less in annual cost. High school students lost their bussing to invitational sports events and the team bus to away events is restricted to one bus (1900 student high school, this means athletes on teams like track don't all get to go to league meets). High school students next year lose their after-school activities busses. (Middle school students have no sports or after school activities).Bussing home from afterschool help is retained.

Note on the compensation:
adult family members of gov't employees are also on the health plan..remember children can be on the parents' plan now until they are 26. Many do b/c work plans for private industry are inferior. That shifted costs..I'd like to know what portion of the tax increase covers these people who would otherwise be on their own employers' plan.

SteveH said...

"General ed parents are supposed to stay out of things; we SPED parents are supposed to advocate."

Gen Ed parents get mixed messages. The advocate message means that we are supposed to help the teachers. Talk to them about little Johnnie and work out a plan where parents help fix the problem at home.

In first grade, we talked to our son's teacher about how he needs more advanced work - based on their goal of differentiated learning. We picked out chapter books for him to read and had him write a page or two for a book report. Notice I said "we", the parents. The teacher only glanced at the work, made no comments, and probably thought the problem solved. One less child to worry about.

Then there are the other messages we received. I called them preemptive parental strikes. That's when the teachers talk about "those" parents in front of you. (You better avoid those behaviors.) And there were the pedagogy comments about "superficial knowledge" and "voice". Of course, there was the open house where they tried to lecture us about the glories of MathLand as if we parents can't possibly understand the complexities of critical thinking and problem solving in K-6 math.

In Kindergarten, our son took a reading test and they didn't want to tell us the results. They didn't even tell us the kids were tested. When we found out about the test and asked (without any hint of accusation), the teacher went into a long lecture (it was a lecture) about how some kids can read encyclopedias, but they don't know what they are reading.

The message is clear. Stay out. The school and teachers are the experts. Parents need to support them. There is a veil covering the workings in the school and parents are supposed to stay out. This is their turf.

lgm said...

>>Also, when it comes to costly, academically talented kids are next on the chopping block

Music is being hit hard up here. For ex. Arlington (wealthy) and Poughkeepsie (poor) both have excellent, award winning programs but are seeing staff reductions. No reason, other than the need to avoid a salary freeze.

In my district, top students are being forced in to dual enrollment classes if they don't grad early. Unfortunately these classes aren't good prep for engineering/sciences as they are on the community college proof or symbolic in math for ex, so I'll have to have my kid take Calc online.

SteveH said...

"No matter what my district does or does not do, the scores are always high - and the district takes credit."

In our school system, there are different forces. The big one is NCLB and the pressure to get all kids to score above a (low) proficiency level. The problem is that this level is not high enough to force them to change their beloved full inclusion and differentiated learning ideas (along with Everyday Math). Also, many (in the public too) see the proficiency levels in K-8 as representing strong goals. Other parents know that these won't get the job done.

This shifts the effort (and $) to the lower end. There are fewer kids who fall through the cracks, but less effort is given to the more academically prepared kids. This is covered over by an emphasis on having kids take control over their own learning in 7th and 8th grades. Some make the nonlinear transition and some don't. In high school, enough kids make the transition with help at home, and their parents put pressure on the school to support them. They see college looming and want the courses and the preparation to get there. They push for more AP classes.

It's almost bimodal in high school. The school works really hard to bring up the low end to meet the low state NCLB cut-offs, the parents of the best students take care of the top end, but the kids in the middle are left to their own devices.

Our high school has gone to three tracks. The lowest is called the Success Academy. They are perhaps two years below grade level. (Don't ask me why they are in high school.) They don't allow kids they deem lazy or not caring into this group. They are now pushed into the College Prep group. CP used to be the top group when I was in high school. Now it's the "general" level. All kids are expected to be ready to go to college. The top level is the Honors level, although many kids take a mix of CP and Honors classes. The top students and parents know that you want to avoid CP classes at all costs. Honors is now the old CP. Then there are the AP classes. The top students try to only take honors and AP classes.

The best students are best with help at home and with help from some of the teachers of the honors and AP classes. The lowest level students are helped so that the school can get good NCLB numbers, but many kids in the middle are lost. I'm hearing more stories about some of these capable middle kids who just don't graduate.

The Success Academy group is probably larger than it should be because of bad K-8 curricula, and many in the CP group are hurt even more. A teacher once told me that the kids in the middle were hurt the most. Of course, that group would be much larger if it were not for parents, and I'm not talking about turning off the TV or taking trips to museums.

Laura said...

All of this reminds me of the old Laurel & Hardy shows - "Another fine mess!"

A cousin of my husband's lives in Germany and his autistic son receives special education services in school via the State - not the school district (as far as I know). He has a personal aide with him to help him in the regular classroom (inclusive classrooms?). The aide also helps with homework and therapy. I believe the aide is through the health insurance system - but I'm not sure. I'm also not sure how much the autism affects him.

This all came up because my daughter has Asperger's and my in-laws were comparing educational systems. My solution has been to homeschool (which they do not approve of - but seems to work for us).

A solution needs to be found for the spiraling costs of special education (these children need to be educated) - however, the poor materials and the system itself is partially to blame, as has been pointed out before. But blaming the "victim" in this case, isn't going to help...

momof4 said...

Lgm: You have a good point about using CC dual enrollment, especially in the math/science area. Those classes in our DC suburban area were nowhere near the level of the AP calc BC and the AP sciences at the top public high schools, largely because of the nature of the kids in the class. The kids taking the APs would go on to MIT, Ivies and other elite schools, while those at the CCs were unlikely to go even to the flagship state school and the class content/expectations reflected the difference. Some of the top kids did take college classes during HS, but usually at the flagship state school or a private college. The MN state PSEO program is excellent and allows any of those choices. My son had 2 years of outstanding German classes at a local CC but we wouldn't have had him take calculus there.

Laura,I think there are some kids whose handicaps are of such severity that they do not belong in the k-12 system at all. I am thinking of the group with which one of my kids volunteered in MS: non-toilet trained, unable to feed self or speak understandably etc. Those kids, aged 15 or so at the time, will always be unable to meet their own most basic personal needs, let alone contribute to their own support. I feel those needs should be addressed by HHS, not the ed system, because their needs are simply custodial.

lgm said...

What is HHS? Health and Human Services?

I feel that students' health issues should be funded seperately from the academic issues..i.e. by the state or federal gov'ts and their health insurance, not by the local district. I can see rural districts without a wide tax base getting decimated with high needs when sufficient numbers of commuters whose children have issues move in. Perhaps the Kiryas Joel school district model (all special needs students in public school district encompassing just their community, all other students in private school) should be used in each county or region to spread the costs out equitably and maintain equitable academics for all? It's ridiculous that some districts can have AP level classes with open enrollment (say Arlington) while others are basically denying admittance to all qualified or dropping the classes altogether in order to fund remedial and sped.

Laura said...

Momof4 - I totally agree. There are some kids, even with minor handicaps that shouldn't be mainstreamed, simply because of the nature of the problems they create. Other times, we need to bring in kids who are different, but with care.

I don't think it's fair to the handicapped/impaired child or to the other children in the class if the placement is inappropriate. It causes nothing but problems and disruptions and doesn't allow learning to take place.

Our daughter attended a private school through 4th grade without any real issues (some bullying and learning issues - but no disruptions) ... however, we decided that for her sake, homeschooling would be the best option. Not everyone has that choice.

Schools need to balance the best options for everyone involved - not just the easiest option.

Catherine Johnson said...

In my area the sped cost reduction is being pitched as the elimination of (unfunded) state imposed mandates that are not req'd by federal law.

Right - our board just voted to ask Albany (Cuomo's task force on mandate relief) to eliminate SPED mandates that exceed those called for by federal law.

I have no idea whether that's a good idea or not ... BUT I also know that, at least here, boards were given a menu of priorities they could choose amongst, one of which was to freeze step increases when union contracts expire.

In other words: repeal of, or serious softening of, Triborough Amendment.

Boards are choosing to focus on SPED children instead of the Triborough Amendment, which is, to me, a) infuriating and b) not logical.

I could be wrong about b; perhaps it would be cheaper to get rid of the extra SPED mandates than to freeze step increases when contracts expire.

BUT I would have to see a convincing analysis to believe that.


Another thing!

School boards all across the state picked 'Get rid of busing to private school' as one of their priorities. (Somehow, here in NY, public school districts are required to bus private school kids as well as public school kids. Chris has had his transportation to the Bronx paid for for all 4 years.)

THAT is RIDICULOUS .... the amount public schools spend on busing kids to private schools within a 15-mile radius cannot possibly approach the amount public schools spend on step increases and on above-inflation contracts due to the Triborough Amendment.

To me that seems like evidence that school boards are driven by almost pure ideology.

(I realize that could be wrong, but What On Earth???)

Catherine Johnson said...

"Another fine mess!"

Ditto that!

Catherine Johnson said...

Barry wrote: Start teaching students using textbooks and techniques that work, so that IEP's are given for students who really neeed them.

I am **permanently** scandalized by the fact that schools have no obligation to use effective curricula and teaching.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

New York public schools have to bus kids to private schools? Or is that just special ed kids who have been placed in private schools because the public schools can't handle them?

Around here, many of the public school districts---including the one I'm in---have no buses (except for SPED). Young kids are expected to be delivered by their parents (though there is some effort to get them to walk or bike).

momof4 said...

I don't know if it is still true, but Montgomery County, MD (DC suburbs) used to bus kids to private schools, even with no spec ed component. A neighbor's daughter rode a county bus to her Catholic ES. I think there were some restrictions, related to bus schedules and routes.

ChemProf said...

I think it must be an East Coast thing. Like gwp, I am also in California, and our district doesn't have any school buses. Even in the 70's, there was only one bus route from my elementary school, to a neighborhood that was on the other side of the freeway and up a huge hill. Even that one is gone now, and parents are expected to get their kids to and from school by themselves.

kcab said...

Pretty sure the bus situation depends on where in CA you are - I just quickly checked my old district and they still have buses. (Which I expected, since some kids ride for ~1 hr each way from 7th up, the district covers 750 sq miles and sees significant snowfall.) So - I'm guessing you will find different situations in urban/suburban and more rural districts. If they do private school busing, it is probably on a contract basis.

Where I am currently, CT, the same bus company handles both public and some of the private school bus routes. Since the bus company is under contract to the district, I'm not sure who pays for the private school bus routes. The nearby magnet schools provide buses to many surrounding communities.

ChemProf said...

I asked my husband, who grew up in Southern California, and it definitely varies by area. In his area, there were buses to the high school (15 miles away) but not to elementary school. In mine, we had to pay for the city bus even if we lived miles from the high school. But I also think that's an area where there have been cuts in recent years, and where state laws vary a lot.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

It varies by school district mainly, and there is definitely an urban/rural component. The mountain districts here have school buses, but charge the parents for them. The largest school district has a lot of seasonally-paid farm workers rather spread out, so it has buses that are paid for out of school funds (but only for kids more than 3 miles from school, I believe). The urban/suburban school districts have buses only for SPED (and perhaps for athletes---I've not checked).

I know that when my son was in elementary school, the field trips were almost all on foot. There were a couple for which they organized volunteer parent drivers (with a lot of bureaucracy including insurance checks), and a couple where they used city buses (the transit district used to offer a special fare for school field trips, but I don't think they do any more).

I rather liked that the field trips were mostly on foot, and I accompanied the classes on several of them (when my schedule permitted).

lgm said...

NY has a 15 mile limit on the bussing to a private school if not a special ed. placement. Both of the private schools I was considering for my sons were between 16 and 20 miles away; the bus fee was app $7K ten years ago and that would get them a pickup at their zoned elementary, not at their home, with pickups at other district's zoned elementaries on the way. About an hour and a half ride that would take half an hour by car.

The cost cutting we are hearing is on the order of having nonspecial education students walk two miles to the bus pickup (or to school if they are 2 miles or less away). No sidewalks for most of the way of course and they'd be sharing the road with busses as well as teens and adults driving in. We've been told by school officials that doing so requires a public vote. In the meantime, the bus routes have been reversed so that those closest to school are picked up first, thus encouraging them to walk or drive as they now have a 55-75 min bus trip vs last year's 10-15 min trip via bus or foot.

lgm said...

Also note in some districts, bus drivers are district employees and the district owns the busses. In others, the district contracts with a bus company.