False Claims of Special Education Successes Cloud the Bloomberg/Klein Reform
The New York City Mayor and Chancellor, betting on political PR to carry them through to the next election, may be putting our tax money on the wrong special needs horse.
The New York City Department of Education is showing it's true colors when it comes to special education, and by that we mean we are finally seeing very clearly the false claims that have crushed so many parents and left so many New York City children without their services, resources, and/or assistive technologies. For years, the DOE - formerly the Board of Education, or BOE - has either remained silent about the violations of law going on in the Impartial Hearings and in the full inclusion classrooms, or threatened anyone who spoke out about what was really going on, as the story of Booker T. Washington shows. This is only one story among thousands, where a parent or a teacher chose to reveal or question the actions of a principal or school administrator who deliberately denied services to children who needed them. But something new is being discussed publicly: the mixed messages about the services not being provided to special education children and the vastly different data the NYC DOE presents to the public.
Is the house of cards about to be blown away?
On May 11 2004 Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum held a forum on Special Education at which NY SUN columnist Andrew Wolf was the moderator. One of the members of Mr. Wolf's panel was Deputy Chancellor Carmen Farina who, assisted by DOE Special Education official Linda Wernikoff, proudly announced to the audience that 12,000 children were evaluated during the month of March. As March has 31 days, if we take out the Saturdays and Sundays, this leaves 23 working days, during which, if Mrs. Farina and Ms. Wernikoff are to be believed, approximately 521 children were evaluated every single day.
Survey Says Special Education Isn't as Troubled as Critics Claim
By ELISSA GOOTMAN (NYTimes, May 12, 2004)
The special education system in the New York City public schools is not as troubled as previous reports have claimed, according to the results of a systemwide survey that the Department of Education released yesterday.
The new findings suggest that fewer students are awaiting special education services than previously estimated, and that the problems that do exist are a result not of restructuring under mayoral control, but of longtime staff shortages.
The city's special education system, which serves about 150,000 children, has long been plagued with problems. But lawyers, educators and children's advocates have contended that the problems worsened this year because of the reorganization of the school system and the elimination of hundreds of special education supervisory positions. Indeed, at a forum last night, officials conceded that the findings reflected a major push in recent weeks to clear a backlog in special education evaluations.
The review was conducted by Deputy Chancellor Carmen Fariña; shortly after being appointed to the position two months ago, she vowed to make identifying and fixing problems in the special education system a priority. She ordered each of the city's 10 regional superintendents to conduct a detailed accounting of special education services. Public officials and other advocates of special-needs students hailed her move as a stark and long-overdue admission of widespread gaps in the provision of services to children.
But yesterday, those critics were skeptical of Ms. Fariña's findings, saying they believed she had glossed over serious problems.
'The D.O.E.'s findings are not consistent with the information I have received from sources familiar with the system,' said Betsy Gotbaum, the public advocate, who organized the forum last night and has called attention to flaws in the special education system this year. She added that she had found it 'particularly hard to believe' that, as the review indicated, only about 600 of the city's 1.1 million schoolchildren were awaiting special education evaluations more than 60 days after requesting them, without receiving services in the meantime.
According to the Department of Education's findings, while 30,000 children were initially reported to be awaiting special education services, about a third of those were already receiving the services but not listed as getting them because of data entry problems. As a result, the department said it planned to hire an outside contractor to handle data entry.
As for those students who were evaluated for special education services but still not receiving them, Ms. Fariña concluded that the problem was, for the most part, a result of a national shortage of occupational, physical and speech therapy specialists.
The department has sped up evaluations in recent months. At Ms. Gotbaum's forum, Linda Wernikoff, the city's top special education official, said that 12,000 children were evaluated for special education services in March, and that the quality of the evaluations did not suffer.
But Randi Weingarten, the president of the city teachers' union, said many school psychologists had themselves raised concerns about the quality of the recent rush of evaluations. In an interview, Ms. Weingarten said, 'Clearly the people in the field believe that there is a serious problem of both not evaluating children properly this year, and not providing the appropriate services.'
On June 1, 2004, the NY Daily News published a story that questions the validity of the NYC DOE reports, and The E-Accountability Foundation encourages the media to continue (Ms. Lucadamo used to work at the NY SUN):
Special ed failing fast, say teachers
By KATHLEEN LUCADAMO (Daily News, June 1, 2004)
Even as school officials insist the problem-plagued special education program is getting better, teachers complain it's getting worse.
Mandatory reading and math programs, staff shuffles and a backlog of thousands of individual learning plans for students have made this year one of the toughest, teachers said.
"There are things they are asking of us that are impossible for certain students," Amira El, a special education teacher at Grover Cleveland High School in Queens, told the Daily News.
El said she's supposed to have emotionally disturbed teens work in "small groups," but within minutes they are wrestling and poking each other in the eyes, she said.
One group of students recently dug a hole in the wall with their fingernails, she said.
The United Federation of Teachers had invited teachers to submit E-mails venting about changes in special education, but even union leaders were alarmed by the response. They have logged 300 E-mails since March and are still fielding as many as 50 complaints a week.
A Brooklyn elementary school teacher told The News that the new reading and math textbooks are too tough for her learning-disabled kids - some of whom can barely hold a pencil.
"It's absolutely impossible to function with all the new requirements, which do not apply to our children," said the teacher. "Their reading ability did not improve all year."
UFT President Randi Weingarten said the Education Department is painting a rosier picture than what teachers are seeing in the field.
The biggest gripe? Officials are rushing mandatory evaluations, Weingarten said.
To reduce the backlog, school psychologists raced through 12,000 evaluations in March but are still left with nearly 40,000 to complete by summer.
"You can't tell me that there was any quality control for those evaluations," Weingarten said.
Education Department brass dispute any suggestion of widespread problems, although officials conceded that some students are not receiving occupational and physical therapy because of national staffing shortages in those areas.
"We will continue aggressive efforts to find and hire qualified specialists in occupational, physical and speech therapy, offering enticements such as scholarship and loan-forgiveness programs," said Deputy Chancellor Carmen Fariña.
In addition, Fariña is hiring 11 new supervisors to help teachers with special-needs children and has arranged to meet with groups of frustrated special education teachers. Her instructional team also is training teachers to adapt the new reading and math program for all students, she said.
But after Chancellor Joel Klein's restructuring wiped out hundreds of evaluators and district staff, teachers say their questions go unanswered and their concerns unheard.
"The attitude and norm of special education now is just surviving," El said. "I don't understand when they say things are getting better. Things are getting progressively worse."