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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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Events Happening This Weekend

A few events taking place this weekend are the impetus for this brief post:

1) The release of Won't Back Down
This Hollywood film due to be released on Friday, September 28 depicts the travails of parents fed up with the bureaucracy of the public school system and teachers' unions who buck the system and plan to move toward something better.  Unlike Waiting for Superman, this film is not a documentary, but certainly is timely in light of the current education debate and appears to be sending strong waves through the parent community (if reactions from the limited advanced screenings are any indication).

2) Presidential Debate regarding Disability Issues
Although Barack and Mitt have opted out of appearing at this forum scheduled to take place on Friday, September 28, their respective camps will be represented at this debate regarding a range of disability issues in the U.S. 

For more information:

3) City Hall Rally
A rally will take place on Sunday, September 30 at City Hall to fight the city's recent changes in the way that service contracts are awarded and CPSE services are provided with respect to pre-school-aged children with special needs.  As a result of the recent changes, many independent providers who have developed positive educational relationships with their students are finding that they may be out of jobs. 

For more information:

"Education Reform" in New York

Over the last several weeks we have received inquiries from parents and advocates regarding two hot-button issues, which appear to be part of a city-wide and state-wide "reform" effort:

(a) Related services for students attending NY State-approved nonpublic schools (NPS's)

Many of you might be aware of a message promulgated by the New York State Education Department (NYSED), and the physical embodiment of that message in letter-form that was recently distributed to NYC impartial hearing officers, regarding the provision of related services to children attending approved nonpublic schools.

Parents have been outraged over the idea that they might not be able to procure the level of related services that their children need.  Or that they might have to "give back" services that were previously mandated for their child...if they wanted their child to continue in his/her current NPS, that is. 

"How could they do that?" parents have asked. 

In its letter, the NYSED cited provisions of the NY regulatory code purportedly supporting its position that an NPS must provide all of the related services that a child requires in order to be appropriate.  The NYSED's actions appear to run afoul of the IDEA and contradict federal case law which makes clear that a private school need not provide every service in order to be deemed "appropriate." 

(b) The DOE's "new reform" relating to inclusion

For a brief background, see:

In short, the DOE has been on a mission that operates on the principle that students currently enrolled in certain "more supportive" ("more restrictive") special education setttings can be educated just as well, perhaps better, in less supportive settings that are closer to mainstream, or general education environments.  I'm not entirely clear on what is new about this movement.  School districts have always recommended the least supportive environment possible (and, in fact, federal and state law call for educating a child in the least restrictive environment). 

So perhaps the "new reform movement" is not a new course of action, but a more aggressive, more thought-out course of action.  As a result, there appears to be a re-configuration of certain DOE policies and a re-allocation of city resources. 

To place a child in a more mainstreamed environment, however, when there is a clear need for the more supportive setting was not intended by the IDEA.  Such a move likely would amount to a violation of the child's right to an appropriate education. 

While I don't discount the benefit of mainstreaming to the extent possible and appropriate peer modeling with non-disabled peers, I do worry that the Department's screening and decisionmaking process on this matter might be influenced by external pressures unrelated to the question of, Will this specific action help this specific student succeed?   

* With respect to both of the above issues, it is still your child's invidual, unique needs which govern the program and placement process.  Not the other way around, regardless of what state ed may have you think. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

R.E., R.K., E.Z.-L.

For those of you trying to decipher the alphabet soup in the title of this blog post, it refers to a recent decision from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the combined matters of:

R.E. v. NYC Department of Education
R.K. v. NYC Department of Education
E.Z.-L. v. NYC Department of Education

This post will summarize some of the legal issues involved.  It is not intended to be comprehensive by any means, and will not review the particular facts of each case.  Those who would like to read the full decision with all its nuances should be able to do so here:

In brief, the Second Circuit decided to hear these three cases jointly due to common issues of law.  Some parts of the decision contain clear, strong language.  Other parts of the decision leave some question marks.  Here are three of the main issues they addressed and some language/thoughts from the Court which I am presenting in somewhat bare-bones fashion without in-depth legal analysis at this time:

1) Retrospective testimony
Can a school district rely on "retrospective testimony" about additional services that would have been provided at the public school placement (even if that information was not known to the parents at decision making time)?

"[T]estimony regarding state-offered services may only explain or justify what is listed in the written IEP.  Testimony may not support a modification that is materially different from the IEP, and thus a deficient IEP may not be effectively rehabilitated or amended after the fact through testimony regarding services that do not appear in the IEP." 

"[T]he IEP ust be evaluated prospectively as of the time of its drafting and . . . retrospective testimony that the school district would have provided additional services beyond those listed in the IEP may not be considered in a Burlington/Carter proceeding." 

"[P]arents must have sufficient information about the IEP to make an informed decision as to its adequacy prior to making a placement decision."  [emphasis added]

"[I]t is error to find that a FAPE was provided because a specific teacher would have been assigned or because of actions that specific teacher would have taken beyond what was listed in the IEP." 

"This rule recognizes the critical nature of the IEP as the centerpiece of the system, ensure that parents will have sufficient information on which to base a decision about unilateral placement, and puts school districts on notice that they must include all of the services they intend to provide in the written plan." [emphasis added]

2) Deference
What deference must a reviewing court give to the State Review Officer (SRO)?

"[T]he deference owed to an SRO's decision depends on the quality of the opinion." 

Relevant factors include "whether the decision being reviewed is well-reasoned, and whether it was based on substantially greater familiarity with the evidence and the witnesses than the reviewing court." 

3) Procedural violations
At what point do violations of state regulations rise to the level of a denial of FAPE?

The Court considered the importance of FBA's, BIP's, and services such as parent counseling and training, and discussed when a failure to provide any of the above might result in a deprivation of FAPE. 

"Multiple procedural violations may cumulatively result in the denial of a FAPE even if the violations considered indivdually do not."   

"Failure to conduct an adequate FBA is a serious procedural violation because it may prevent the CSE from obtaining necessary information about the student's behaviors, leading to their being addressed in the IEP inadequately or not at all. . . .  [S]uch a failure seriously impairs substantive review of the IEP because courts cannot determine exactly what information an FBA would have yielded and whether that information would be consistent with the student's IEP." 

"[T]he failure to conduct an FBA at the proper time cannot be rectified by doing so at a later date." 

NoteDicta from the Court's discussion of the above-enumerated issues have been omitted from this post but can be read in the decision itself. 

This decision, in several ways, reinforces child and parental rights in the special education process.  However, as noted above, there are some areas of the decision whose implications are not yet clear.  It's a 58-page decision but worth skimming for those who are interested to know more. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Chicago Teacher Strike

What exactly is going on with the teacher strike in Chicago and what implications does it have for the rest of the country as far as education reform goes? 

For starters, Chicago is the nation's third largest school district with approximately 350,000 students who have been sidelined for the past five school days while the teachers have been on strike.

If this were a boxing match, the bout might be summarized like this:

Chicago Teachers' Union vs. Chicago Public Schools 

Karen Lewis (president of the teachers' union) vs. Rahm Emanuel (mayor of Chicago)

Big-pictures issues at play:

- What role will unions continue to play in this country?  See, e.g., Wisconsin.
- What political influence will *union support* have on the presidential campaign.

This strike has been described by some as "a symbol of hope for public teachers and other unions that have been losing ground around the nation."  ( 

Issues to be resolved during these negotiations include:
  • Teacher evaluations
  • Standardized testing
  • Salary
  • Automatic re-hiring 
  • The rights of laid off teachers and the benefits to which they are entitled 
  • Principal responsibilities 
New York City has been grappling with many of these issues as well.  At least in New York, it seems that the public's view of the teachers' unions have been waning.  I had the opportunity to catch Randi Weingarten in conversation with Steven Brill at the 92nd Street Y two nights ago and their interplay typified that tension.  (Note: Snickering, hissing, and booing filled the a venue where good behavior is the norm.)  

Although deal proposals have been made and meetings have been held, with a hope that Chicago students will return to school on Monday, it appears that no deal has yet been reached.  But we will be watching this one closely.    

P.S. (September 27, 2012) - Although the strike is over, questions abound regarding how Chicago will deal with the financial implications of the agreement reached with the Teachers' Union:

Thursday, September 13, 2012

NY Times Schools For Tomorrow Conference

For those who are not attending today's NY Times Schools For Tomorrow event, it is streaming live all day on their website:

Topics being covered include:
  • Perspectives on education issues from the campaign trail 
  • Global overview - Canada, Australia, Finland, Singapore
  • Economics metrics of education in the U.S. compared to abroad
  • How to increase the status and perception of the profession and attract top talent
  • Teacher salaries & merit-based pay 
  • Measuring teacher performance
  • Role of teachers' unions 
  • Chicago teachers' strike 
  • Influence of Teach For America
  • Role of federal/local government in educational reform
  • Future of education 
  • Building support structures - school mentorship, teacher-training programs, and supporting teachers to deliver better instruction
  • Changing role of the teacher  
Highlights include: 
  • David Brooks as moderator
  • Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford University Professor of Education
  • Kaya Henderson, Chancellor of the D.C. Public School System (successor to Michelle Rhee)
  • Keynote address by Aneesh Chopra, former Chief Technology Officer for the U.S. 
  • Remarks from Chancellor Dennis Walcott
If teaching, in the words of Linda Darling-Hammond, is "the profession on which all other professions depend," today's subject of how to improve that profession makes for a meaningful and worthwhile conversation.  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Autism Etiology

Why the soaring autism numbers?  Hard to know for sure.  But this article provides some interesting insight into what could be the root of the problem, and ideas about how to treat it.

Monday, September 3, 2012


It's back to school now that summer is over.  That can bring out nerves and jitters for children and parents alike.  From a parent's perspective, some common concerns might include:

Will my child do well this year? 
Will he/she receive all of the supports that he/she needs? 
Will he/she be in the right class? 
Will he/she have good teachers? 
Will he/she make friends? 
What do I do if he/she is struggling?

While we wish you and your child a successful academic year, keep in mind that signs of learning difficulty are not always readily apparent.  In such cases you will want to be closely attuned to your child.  An obvious red flag that your child is not progressing in school could be poor academic exam grades or report cards, but grades do not always tell the full story.  You should pay attention for the following signals either in school or at home:

- Complaints of boredom
- Tuning out
- Acting out
- Not attending to homework or spending an inordinate amount of time completing homework
- Poor self-image (especially in relation to peers)
- Social difficulties
- Frustration
- Aggression

If your child presents with any of these issues, speak with his teacher immediately to explore whether something deeper might be at play.  If you suspect that your child might have a disability but are not sure, you should explore the idea of having a qualified professional conduct a comprehensive psychological assessment to better understand your child’s areas of strength and weakness. 

In addition to the above, there are a number of broader policy considerations for the coming school year.  Some parents might be wondering, How will the DOE's new push for inclusion affect their children.  See:

Others might be wondering, What teachers' union reform can be expected and in what ways will that affect the quality of teaching in New York City's public schools?  See:

(For those interested in the movie referenced in the article above, Won't Back Down will be in theaters starting September 28, 2012.)

Best wishes for a successful 2012-2013 school year!