New Mission

New Mission

My mission is to explore how other countries around the world are dealing with education and special education issues.

I would like to visit and observe different types of schools that have proven records of success, wherever those schools may be. I would like to meet with school directors and administrators, government officials, leaders in the business world, and others who are responsible for implementing education systems or otherwise connected to education to learn more about how education is being addressed in their communities.

If you know of any remarkable schools in other parts of the world (especially special needs schools), please let me know about them. If you know of any education experts who are engaged in remarkable work in this field, please introduce me to them.

Please do not hesitate to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the above. Read more about my mission here.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Special Education Class Sizes Expanding

Mayor Bloomberg's Panel for Education Policy has voted to increase the size of special education classes in NYC.  You might remember that changes were implemented back in late 2010 to modify the maximum allowable number of students in some types of classrooms (see November 26, 2010 blog post).  The rules may be amended again but it's not clear what classrooms will be affected.  The panel voted to increase special ed class sizes from 12 students to 15.  Presumably this applies to self-contained classrooms.  The extent to which this will affect elementary and middle school self-contained classrooms remains to be seen.  It is expected to affect elementary and middle school students in Integrated Co-Teaching classes but it's not clear how it will affect high school students in Integrated Co-Teaching environments.  These changes, which are an attempt to save money by requiring fewer classrooms, are likely to result in special education students receiving less individualized attention than before...which could mean increased litigation.        

See article at:

Friday, May 20, 2011

Difficulty Dealing With Your School District?

Although this New York Times story discusses a special needs family in San Francisco, it will strike a chord with parents in New York going through the special education process.  The story illustrates the tension between parents and school districts resulting from school districts needing to cut costs and parents wanting the full level of services that their special needs children require.  Parents that I speak with frequently express these sentiments: "It's hard enough dealing with my child's diagnosis, but now we have the additional burden of fighting with the school district to worry about" or "It feels like the district is trying to make the process as difficult and expensive as possible to encourage parents to just give up."  You will see these sentiments reflected in this article as well.   

Read article at:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Board Of Regents Approves New Teacher Evaluation System

The Board of Regents has approved a draft of New York State regulations for a new teacher evaluation system but there seem to be big hurdles for its implementation.  The new model would mean that teachers get evaluated based on a combination of their students' state test results and performance in the classroom judged by school principals to be highly effective, effective, developing, or ineffective.  Here are some of the contested issues:

- student's state test results would account for 40% of the teacher evaluation which is twice as high as what the teachers' union agreed to last year
- should the emphasis be on state exams as opposed to local exams (or some combination of the two) and to what extent is this going to encourage "teaching to the test"
- the cut-off scores for each of the performance categories were raised making it harder for a teacher to attain "highly effective,""effective," etc.
- during negotiations, the DOE has fought for principals not to have to meet with teachers after a designation of "ineffective" to disuss areas of needed improvement
- Governor Cuomo wants this system to be put in place for all teachers (not just 4th through 8th grade math and reading teachers) in time for the 2011-2012 school year

The DOE and teachers' union would have to agree on these terms in order for this system to be put in place.  They haven't even been able to work out a new teachers contract which expired in October 2009.  Obviously there is some serious tensions here.

DOE In Turmoil

It seems you read a new story every day about the DOE botching a project or corruption within the school system.  One example concerns school progress reports:  NYC Comptroller John Liu has completed three audits of the DOE since taking office in part because, even though the city has an $80 million database meant to track student academic records, there are concerns that the data is inconsistent and maybe inaccurate too.  The DOE assigns grades of A to F to schools every year and uses that information in making decisions about which programs to reward and which to shutter but the formula behind the grades changes so frequently that you can't reasonably compare one year's findings to the next year's.  Suspicions that schools are manipulating the data to show better performance is the subject of a separate investigation. 

Also of interest are the flurry of corruption stories within the DOE.  Once recent example is Judith Hederman, the Executive Director of the DOE's division of financial operations, who resigned amid allegations that she had an improper personal relationship with one of the DOE's consulting companies.   The DOE was employing the company for a $43 million contract for technology and computer services.  Apparently, the consulting firm hired subcontractors (which the DOE contract prohibits) and charged the DOE $22,400 per month for the work while the subcontractors were paid only $3,370 per month - the rest presumably going straight into the company's purse.  Nevertheless, the DOE plans to designate $1 billion for consultants next year. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

New York Has A New Education Commissioner

The Gotham Gazette reports that the Board of Regents has named Deputy Commissioner John King to replace David Steiner as the Commissioner of the New York State Education Department.  Mr. King's childhood was one marked by turmoil as he lost both of his parents before reaching his teenage years and was later expelled from school for bad behavior, but he turned things around and completed degrees at Harvard, Yale, and Columbia.  He holds a law degree and a doctorate in education.  Both of his parents were educators.  Professionally, he has been active in the charter school movement, the bid for Race to the Top funds, and efforts to make testing more rigorous.  Also interesting to note: when he was named Commissioner, he had his own salary reduced from $255,000 to $212,500 in light of New York's fiscal problems. 

For the full article:

Yachad Family Shabbaton at Hudson Valley Resort - May 13-15, 2011

I was invited to speak at the 25th Annual Yachad Family Shabbaton this past weekend at the Hudson Valley Resort in Kerhonkson, New York.  Yachad is a national Jewish organization dedicated to addressing the needs of all individuals with disabilities and including them in the Jewish community.  The event, which this year attracted more guests than ever in the past, offered workshops on different topics with respect to individuals with special needs such as sensory integration, social skills deficits, parenting, residential programs, executive functioning skills, autism, Down Syndrome, and two sessions on special education law presented by this firm.  The weekend also offered parents opportunities to attend support groups with similarly situated parents and to participate in various other sessions and activities. 

To learn more about Yachad visit: 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

"Child Find" Requirement

What exactly is the "child find" requirement?  Under federal law, in order for a state to be eligible for funding from the federal government it must have in place policies and procedures to ensure that the state meets certain conditions vis-a-vis kids with special needs.  One of those conditions is that a state has to identify, locate, and evaluate children who are suspected of having disabilities and who may need special education and related services but have not yet been found to be eligible.  This child find requirement is an affirmative one: a parent is not required to request an evaluation and it is the school district's responsibility to initiate the process when there is reason to suspect that there is a disability requiring special education/services.  The school district must then refer the child to the local committee on special education to better assess the child's specific needs.  A school district will be liable when there were clear signs of disability and it failed to act. 

In one particular case, Compton Unified School District v. Addison (9th Cir.), the facts are shocking.  The student performed very poorly in the 9th grade and demonstrated abilities of a fourth-grade academic level.  The school chalked this up to "transitional year" difficulties common to all students and promoted her to the 10th grade.  In the 10th grade she failed every academic subject and demonstrated signs of serious school distress such as refusing to enter the classroom and urinating on herself while in school.  A mental health expert recommended to the school that the child be evaluated for learning disabilities but the school did not initiate that process and instead promoted her to the 11th grade.  Finally, halfway through the 11th grade, the girl was evaluated and found eligible for special education services.  A lawsuit was commenced for compensatory education to make up for all those years.  The school district attempted several arguments that the law should not apply to them here but the court summarily struck them down as absurd (and rightfully so - the district's logic was ridiculous).  The court agreed with the lower courts' decisions and concluded that the district violated its child find obligations by failing to take action in light of clear signs that the child might have a disability. 

P.S. The school district has refused to quit.  Uunsatisfied with the ruling from the 9th Circuit, it has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for the case to be heard yet again.  It is unclear whether the Supreme Court will be accepting the case.  

How Politics Can Corrupt Our Schools

Joel Klein talks to the Atlantic about how politics can corrupt our schools:

See related article at:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Autism Center Links Vaccinations To Autism; South Korea Study Suggests Incidence of Autism Is Higher Than People Think

Two autism-related stories have made headlines. The Elizabeth Birt Center For Autism Law & Advocacy was scheduled to hold a news conference today at Noon in Washington D.C. to reveal an investigation linking vaccinations and autism. The investigation suggests that that the connection may be stronger than is currently accepted and points out that a substantial number of those who received money damages from the government for vaccines injuries have autism. Read more at:

In another story, a research study in South Korea suggests that there are many more young individuals with autism than we think. The study suggests that 1 out of every 38 children has some form of autism. I have questions regarding the sample size and the pool of students tested. I'm also not sure how this data transfers over for U.S. purposes if the research was conducted on Korean children. But I'm sure this information will add to the debate. See below:

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