November 22, 2009

What passes as the "least restrictive environment" these days

This post continues Part I: Reaching for the whistle.

When a parent agrees to place his child in "special ed," a team puts together an Individual Education Plan (IEP) to prescribe a projected learning environment for him.

According to some, IEPs are the "heart of the special education system," the legal instruments that will make it easier for students to learn. IEPs can stipulate how many kids should be in all the child's new classes or whether he should be mainstreamed/included/integrated into general ed classes, get help in a resource room, or receive other kinds of services for a range of disabilities.

The DoE talks about how "more intensive services" will be provided in self-contained special ed classes. It also claims to work "to make certain that the child is provided with what he or she needs to succeed."

That last bit is, of course, poppycock. The DoE makes certain of nothing at all and in fact hires more lawyers to obfuscate, evade, convert mandates into recommendations, justify violations, and keep whistleblowing in check.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 requires that special ed students be placed in the "least restrictive environment" (LRE). According to Wikipedia, the "appropriate mix" of services will vary from child to child and from year to year as the child develops. "If the school officials have provided the maximum appropriate exposure to non-disabled students, they have fulfilled their obligation under IDEA."

A concept as vague as that has the potential of hurting all childen all the time — not just the IEP kids.

Teachers cannot split themselves into multiple people. They can only address certain skill sets at any given time. The kids who learn differently than the way the teacher is working the room at any point in the lesson — whether they're the more proficient learners or the struggling ones — are pretty much getting less direction, supervision, attention, intellectual stimulation, and specific help than the crowd he's focusing on in that moment. De facto.

Since words like "mainstreaming," "inclusion," and "integration" are being thrown around all the time, I was happy to come across this extract from a fact sheet put out by the NY Lawyers for the Public Interest in 2006, which adds some clarity to the subject:
Q: What does LRE mean for my child?

A: What all this means is that legally, under the Least Restrictive Environment requirement,a child with a disability should be allowed to attend a general education class, in his or her zoned school, and receive the services needed to make such a placement work, unless there is proof that he or she cannot receive educational benefits in that setting. If he or she cannot receive educational benefits in that setting, he or she should be educated in a context that provides access to general education students and general education curriculum to the maximum extent appropriate to the student’s individual needs.

The Least Restrictive Environment is related to, but different from, the concepts of “inclusion,” “integration,” and “mainstreaming.” “Inclusion” means that primary instruction and provision of appropriate special education services are provided in (i) an age-appropriate general education class (ii) in the student’s home school (iii) with appropriate additional supports for the student and the student’s teacher.1 Importantly, inclusion does not require a child with a disability to perform at the same level as his or her general education peers. By contrast, “mainstreaming” means that a child with a disability is educated in a general education classroom for those areas of instruction in which the child can be expected to perform at the level of nondisabled peers without needing supplementary aids and services. “Integration” means that children with disabilities and children without disabilities are educated together, though not necessarily in general education classrooms.
1This definition of inclusion comes from the New York State Education Department’s Least Restrictive Environment Implementation Policy Paper, which was updated in May 1998 [see this link]. Some people at the Department of Education may define inclusion differently, so it is important to clarify what they mean by inclusion when they are talking about options for your child.
The special education statutes do not mention “inclusion,” “mainstreaming” or “integration,” but they do require that children with disabilities be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment. “Inclusion,” “mainstreaming,” and “integration” may be the Least Restrictive Environment for some children but not for others.
It seems to me that what LRE and the Act really do is institutionalize wiggle room. Under the cover of doing what's "best" for the individual child with disabilities, administrators have the legal tool to fudge almost everything.

On top of that, LRE doesn't take into account the effect mainstreaming, inclusion and integration have on the more proficient students, and that bothers me a whole lot.

A couple of days ago, I learned that the DoE thinks of music as a "non-academic activity," on a par with lunch. I don't think most music teachers will agree with that, but it shows what kind of managers we have at Tweed.

More to the point, though there are many IEP students in my school who take their core subjects in a 15:1 class, not a single one of them go to a small class for music. That means administrators at all levels believe that every last special ed kid in high school can function in a regular ed music class regardless of his particular disabilities.

That's appalling. What is an "IEP" if not a recommendation for a single child. Some of these kids are reading, writing and comprehending at the 2nd-grade level. Their classmates in these humongous classes are writing college applications. I'm doing my best not to hurt the slower learners, but when I teach to the middle capabilities of the whole-class profile, most of the IEP kids (not to mention a certain number of others whose parents refused special ed) CANNOT DO THE WORK.
And please don't bring up differentiation. It's one thing to differentiate, it's a whole other thing to award a high school credit when a student can't do a tenth of the subject matter.

No doubt schools are designing IEPs — or altering them illegally — to cattle-herd special ed kids into large, heterogeneous classes with up to 50 on register in all grades. After all, they are fulfilling their obligation under IDEA to give IEP students exposure to the gen ed population. Be damned emotional damage to the struggling child or the delivery of content!

"Least restrictive environment" should not mean creating living hells for teachers and students by such indefensible placement policies.
These classes are not right for them, whether they have decoding problems, low IQ, attention deficit, anger management issues, or hearing deficiencies. They get frustrated, and we're hurting them.

That's indicative of a general callousness to inner city kids at the very highest levels of policy making in this city, state and country.

I'm not finished with this topic yet. In Part III, I'll be giving some specifics.

By the way, I used ARIS, just like Pissed Off. Too bad the data I'm looking at today over there is the same as it was when I started writing these posts. That makes ARIS about 3 weeks out of date. How much did it cost?

Reaching for the whistle

I'm ashamed it's taken me so long to write about how special ed kids aren't getting serviced the way they should be. It's not that I haven't wanted to. I've been busy weighing the consequences of speaking publicly on the DoE's abrogation of responsibilities to NYC school children in both special ed and regular ed classrooms.

The plan for special education services outlined in June of 2000 sounds good in theory, but it's hard for me to believe that the people who designed this program couldn't foresee that violations would become widespread once administrators tried to stay inside tight budgets.

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I haven't reported the violations I know about to the UFT, which created a website to receive such complaints last spring. That's because when I wrote to the person at the union who determines whether a complaint should be forwarded up to Albany for investigation, she flat out told me that speaking with her does not in itself give me whistleblower protection.

Googling around a bit, I now see why. According to a City Council whistleblower law enacted in 2007 (described in the NY Teacher at this link), reporting a wrongdoing to a UFT official doesn't trigger the law's protection against retaliation. To get that, you must send your report to at least one of eight offices: the public advocate, the comptroller, a City Council member, the city's Dept of Investigations (DOI), the DoE's Office of Special Investigations (OSI), the mayor, the chancellor, or the deputy chancellor. The UFT is not in that list.

Also, reporting a violation doesn't mean something is going to be done to fix the problem. And of course there's also the question of retaliation. The same article says it might take the form of "dismissal, suspension, discipline and a U-rating," but there's no mention of one option that has been used to marginalize outspoken teachers for years: excessing.

It's obvious there's not so many music positions in schools now that the DoE has found ways to circumvent state mandates for the arts. Seniority doesn't protect you all that much. Administrators can shut your position in a New York minute and put even a very senior teacher into excess. My guess is that if a music teacher were to blow a whistle, a principal would excess him or her immediately and just pretend the program was cut for other reasons.

Knowing all this, participating in the charade of special ed is becoming increasingly uncomfortable for me as an educator, so I'm putting some of this stuff out here and letting the chips fall where they may.

A compromise maybe, but I'm not yet ready to string myself up by the neck and yell "Jump!"

PART I: Thoughts on the New Continuum

A 52-page document on the Continuum of Services for kids with disabilities (accessed by a link on the DoE website here) claims that regular ed and special ed students are "more alike than different" and that "integrating programs and resources result in improved student outcomes for all."

I disagree with that right there. Improved student outcomes for all? Hardly. Especially when they seem not to have put a limit on the number of IEP kids that can be mainstreamed into a regular ed class. If you mix large numbers of kids with learning disabilities, behavioral issues and/or limited facility in English into NYC's already oversized classes, the outcome for the average and good learners won't be improved one tiny bit.

In fact, the intellectual needs of the more proficient learners won't probably even be met, because while you're attending to the kids who are struggling, you're obviously depriving the others of more challenging learning experiences suitable to their mental and maturational levels.

And the opposite is also true. If you aim your discussions and classwork at these better learners, those who are struggling will start exhibiting all the behaviors of avoidance and frustration that led them to special ed solutions in the first place: fooling around, talking, retreating mentally into their own worlds, and if you're not careful, reaching for their cellphones and iPods. Add to these the kids who aren't special ed but really should be — those are the ones whose parents declined the extra help for whatever reason. With all this going on, the bottom line is that in large and diverse groups, what the teacher believes to be the essence of the subject frequently can't be delivered at all.

I've mentioned many times already that HS music classes have up to 50 kids on register, containing students in all four grades (9th through 12th), regular ed and special ed, repeaters, English-language learners and those who are hearing impaired. Some of the struggling learners read, write, and comprehend at early elementary school levels, other students are going home at night to fill out college applications.

So many special ed kids are being mainstreamed/included/integrated into my oversized — but contractually legal — music classes that I feel the system is just about broken.

Continued in Part II, which I'm still writing, but in the meantime, please also go over to Pissed Off, who is duking it out with some adversarial commenters as we speak.

Needless to say, I'm on her side, and if you get a chance to read the rest of what I've been working on for a couple of weeks, you'll see we're coming to the exactly the same conclusions.

November 19, 2009

The union talks a good game about special ed violations

I was at the Delegate Assembly yesterday when the UFT management gave a big presentation on its "No Excuses" campaign against special ed violations, which they initiated last spring.

Michael Hirsch's article in the NY Teacher is a good place to start if you don't know anything about how principals are cutting services to kids with IEPs to save money. According to Hirsch, teacher input on the UFT's website for reporting these violations paints a "devastating picture of rampant neglect."

"The number of complaints is staggering," says UFT VP Carmen Alvarez. "But we already know that these kids are failing. The IEP is not a piece of paper; it’s a coordinated effort to save kids.”

Here are the kinds of things Hirsch says teachers are writing in:
Not having two appropriately certified teachers in Collaborative Team Teaching classes when IEP kids require them,

Principals amending IEPs on their own, without input and approval from the IEP team,

Inappropriate disciplinary suspensions,

Lack of paraprofessional support services,

Failure to provide related services,

Staff being denied access to IEPs, and

Therapists being told to discontinue services for students who plainly need them, and

General education teachers unaware — because IEPs are unavailable, in some cases for months — that students in their class have disabilities and are required to receive support and instructional and testing accommodations.
I am trying to figure out which educators have the cojones to register these kinds of complaints. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has, after all, created a culture of aggressive thuggery against teachers. It seems he'd give any principal who wanted to retaliate against a whistleblower his royal blessing, if not a bevy of lawyers to keep this kind of bravery under control.

I haven't yet mentioned the one complaint the union says it's been getting that really hurts the teacher more than the kids:
Teachers with oversized classes and behavior issues that they can’t manage.
It's clear to me that administration will try to convince anyone who's listening that the negative results of their own mismanagement must always be the teacher's lack of skill. It's really not, but who cares about the truth when you're busy cost-cutting and want to "encourage" those expensive senior teachers to think about retiring.

I'm not crazy about all aspects of the union's campaign. Alvarez told the delegates yesterday that under Chapter 408 of the state ed law, everyone dealing with the IEP student has to be informed of his responsibilities in this process prior to the implementation of the IEP. That is one scary feature.

If they're going to mainstream inordinate numbers of IEP students into regular ed the way they've been doing for so many years, I'd rather not know what that little ol' IEP team envisioned for me when they placed those kids in such great and irrational numbers into my classes. They sure aren't going to be walking in my shoes, and I don't want to be held to any of the guidelines they might come up with off the top of their collaborative head. None of them have the experience of what it's possible to deliver in such large learning environments as our NYC classrooms, especially when there are so many overwhelming behavioral issues and widely differing skill sets.

The IEP team will be planning for that single IEP child. I'll be having deal with the whole shebang, and they will neither know of what I'll be up against or even much care.

You can read Chapter 408 of the 2002 state ed law and its amendments in Appendices 1 and 2 of this link. (Scroll down towards the end.)

November 17, 2009

This just in !

For all you teachers of electives, here's a bit of news.

The DoE doesn't think we're teaching classes like everyone else. They think we're running things called "non-academic mainstreaming activities" — like LUNCH!

I found this out when I was googling the web yesterday looking for how many IEP kids are legally allowed to be mainstreamed into my general music classes.

Never found the answer to that, but I did come across something called "A Parent's Guide to Understanding the IEP Process." It's a pdf of what looks like a power point presentation given at some kind of parent convention in the spring of 2008.

Check out the last sentence in this paragraph below, where it talks about the kinds of subjects we all thought we were "teaching":

Maybe it's a good thing to be doing "non-academic mainstreaming activities" with my kids. It might mean I don't have to write lesson plans anymore, or even get observed.

I says what's good for the cafeteria lady is good enough for me.

November 2, 2009

Raw experience into words

UPDATE Dec. 5th and 7th:

On Tuesday, the Village Voice blog reported on the lawsuit some educators filed in federal court against the DoE's rubber room abuses. Pakter apparently sent in a comment, but I don't see it's been posted there yet. Maybe it will be, but for now it's in the sidebar of this blog.

ALSO read Betsy Combier's Dec. 5 post in the NY Rubber Room Reporter. She makes the point that "union members and administrators are treated very differently in the New York City public school system. A principal who discriminates or does something else that is illegal or corrupt does not get the same punishment as a teacher or staff member, who, more often than not . . . is removed from the school — either fired immediately if this person is not tenured, or re-assigned to a "rubber room." We've heard many of these kinds of stories: principals striking out at kids, demeaning staff in front of children, and doing very many weird things with the budget and special ed.


At someone's request, Pakter gives a 3-part update to his case in the comments below and has now sent around some pictures of his famous plants — the subject of the latest charges brought against him by the DoE. Since I can't illustrate the comments, here is one of the offending plants.

The other one is also green, I guess.

I've posted Pakter before (feisty alliteration) and need to do it again, not only for the breadth of his commentary, but for his insight into the way this malevolent chancellorship distorts a profession and maims a generation of kids.

He wrote this to Norm Scott of Ednotes fame.

In New York City, Whistle-blower Teachers
— of Joel Klein's School System —
Get Blown Away

Dear Norm:

I read Ed Notes religiously, every day, as well as some of the other excellent Education websites, although nothing even comes close to your Ed Notes- may it go on till you are one hundred and perhaps for a few years after that.

All the present fuss over New York City Teachers reporting cheating truly amuses this old geezer writing to you. Not that the topic is not important.

Shocked- just shocked. You mean to say there are really car thieves and illegal Betting Parlors in every big City in America. Impossible - How can that be ??

So what else is new. Cheating went on in every school I ever taught in and at the High School where I taught for twenty five years, mark altering / "improving"/ "updating" - was raised to a virtual "art".

I wonder if Principals demand Kickbacks for all the gallons of "white-out" they order every June to ensure that their graduation totals will look even better and rosier than the previous year's stellar "improvement".

As for using a "Passing" Regents grade as an excuse to ignore a Failing Class Grade score- how the heck do you think they come up with those "regents scores".

At my former school, and I am sure many would not be surprised to learn, at 99 % of the NYC High Schools, all Regents Scores are referred to as a student's "Raw Regents Score". That is to say- the actual grade the student earned on the actual Regents Examination.

Then at my former school, the teachers were actually given printed "Regents Score Conversion Graphs" that indicated what to enter as the student's final official Regents grade in a particular subject- such as Earth Science for example.

If the student achieved a real grade of 43 for example- the teacher just ran his/her finger across the graph to find that this "raw" score was to be converted to a 65, for example. You can imagine what a "raw score" of 65, became in the final adjustment. "Harvard University - here we come".

When it comes to grades and grading, the entire 23 Billion dollar NYC DOE is one big scam from A to Z.

As for a Teacher going to "The Office of Special Investigations"- please - give me a break.

That office is the slickest shell game of all. Sure, they bust a small time independent electrical contractor from time to time just to make it look like they are really doing "Investigations".

But their real purpose for existing is to put out potential political fires before they even have a chance to become fires. I went to them with tons of stuff and got stone-walled every time. I know everyone down there by name. That office is a total crock.

I shall never forget the day, after I was most unceremoniously removed from my school (after I refused to surrender evidence in my possession of egregious Federal Civil Rights violations as well as financial fraud being perpetrated by the Principal and her cronies), when I received a very brief call on my cell phone.

I had just been removed and illegally transferred to a Rubber Room gulag in Brooklyn. The caller was one of several SCI "investigators", (most of them former or retired NYC Police Officers), assigned to look into the allegations I had reported to that agency on several different occasions.

His words were- and I recall them as though it were yesterday:

"Mr. Pakter, I am just calling you to inform you that I have been ordered to close the book on your case". The call was that short and simple.

But then again, you find this situation existing in the NYPD, the US Army, Mega Corporations, the US Post Office et al. It is the way of the world.

Anyone who seeks to have any type of wrongdoing investigated, quickly discovers that he or she soon becomes the prime object of "investigation".

It is, and has been the way of the world since the Dawn of Time- "Bad News- Then Kill the Messenger".

When I observe all those teacher "nubies" running down to SCI at 80 Maiden Lane in lower Manhattan, a stone's throw from Wall Street, to report horrendous and outrageous criminal activity in the NYC DOE, schools system, I never really know whether I should laugh or cry.

Any one who Whistle-blows in NYC, or most other places just doesn't understand that he or she has just signed and Notarized their own "Death Warrant".

As for going to the Newspapers- "paleeeeeze"- give me a break. Who do you think owns and controls the news media- and I mean 99 % to all of it ???

But every year, as sure as Day follows Night, some young group of idealistic Teachers, God Bless their innocent and naive beautiful Souls, goes running all over the Universe- here, there and everywhere, crying "the sky is falling".

You bet it is, right down squarely on their soon to be chopped off innocent heads.

We old timers smile and just send out our warmest telepathic messages of Love to all the Teacher Whistle-blowers in Gotham and wish them our deepest and most sincere hopes for Good Luck and that they may emerge at the far end of the SCI gauntlet with a little of their tattered skin still hanging from their bloodied backs and torn and broken bodies.

Can an old Geezer like me fault these young idealistic Teachers for all their efforts to make the system better for all the powerless and vulnerable children in NYC- most of whom are already "at Risk", from the moment when they first emerge from their Mother's womb and cry their very first cry.

Who am I to fault and be the least bit cynical that someone wants to protect Gotham's children. When I stare at the face of a NYC Teacher "Nubie'", all pink cheeked and eyes shining, hurrying through the ever-revolving glass doors at 52 Broadway, knapsack heavy with text books hanging over their shoulders, who, my old friend, am I really looking at, but the perfect reflection of who I myself was, almost 40 years ago, starting out in the world of Education in New York City.

I thought back then, as a young Teacher, in the South East Bronx and later, working in Bed-Stuy and Harlem and finally via my self created Medical Program for gifted Minority students at Art & Design High School, that I could, by sheer dint of hard work and a driving Idealistic vision of the Universe make a difference.

That somehow "Good" would triumph over "Evil", honest "Idealism" would or could vanquish rampant corruption, and that somehow, by hook or by crook- I would make a "Difference"- even if just a small degree of difference.

Tell me dear God, I did make a difference.

Tell me my old and dear friend, Norman Scott, that it was not all for nothing.

And that those young Teachers presently fighting the good fight we both began to fight also, in our long distant Youth, so many decades ago, long before the present Whistle-blowers were so much as a glint in their Mother's and Father's eyes- oh please do tell me that they will succeed where we failed to make things better.

Hey Jude- please tell me that things can and will be better and that some good and healing force in the Universe- call it what you will, can and will wash away all those twisted and demented minds and sorry excuses for human beings, who for now at least, have temporarily hijacked the futures of all of Gotham's innocent children and are Hell bent on privatizing all Education in Gotham and turning it all into one gargantuan, multi-billion dollar, For Profit, enterprise.

In some cases trading their future lives and future hopes for a bag of Silver coins.

And I still see, when I lay me down to sleep each night all the laughing, beautiful faces and shining innocent eyes of my former gifted, so very gifted and talented, Medical students in Room 316, so radiant with great expectations and so deserving of Hope, that this present Chancellor, a pathetic "Legend in his own mind", via his countless lackeys, lapdogs and stooges and confederates, criminally robbed from their futures when I, as payment for becoming a Whistle-blower myself, was so violently torn from their school and so violently torn from their Lives.

David Pakter, former Teacher of the Year, STILL STANDING