New Mission

New Mission


My idea is to explore how other countries around the world are dealing with education and special education issues. I’d like to see different successful schools, wherever they may be, up close. I’d like to sit down with directors and administrators. I’d like to speak with government officials who keep a pulse on the education affairs of their communities. I want to learn more about education around the globe through speaking with locals, seeing the schools, and shaking hands with the people responsible for implementing the systems. If you know of any outstanding (public or private) special needs schools in other parts of the world, I’d love to hear about them. If you know any education experts from around the world, I’d love to be introduced to them. Please do not hesitate to share your thoughts or ideas. Read more about my mission.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

R.E. v. New York City Department Of Education

You may be familiar with R.E. v. New York City Department of Education from a previous post.  Lately school districts have been parading it around as if it were the talisman for anything and everything they are seeking to achieve at due process proceedings.  They have argued that R.E. says that they no longer have to defend the public school placements that they have offered.  That testimony about the specific school that was recommended is not relevant.  That parents shouldn't have a say in the decision making process of choosing a specific public school anyway.

The main thrust of the R.E. decision is actually something different.  The Second Circuit, in ruling on R.E., admonished against the use of retrospective testimony to prove the appropriateness of a placement, which means that testimony about information that was not made known to the parents at the time that they were making the placement decision cannot be used to prove the appropriateness of that public school.  If a child has a seafood allergy, for example, and the recommended public school is not seafood free at the time of the parents' visit, but the school principal testifies at a subsequent impartial hearing that changes would have been made to make it seafood free, that is an example of retrospective testimony that may not be used to prove the appropriateness of the public school placement.  Similarly with related services, if an IEP fails to provide for specific services that a child requires, a school district cannot rehabilitate that deficiency in the IEP with testimony from public school personnel stating that those services would have been provided at the public school.

Recent federal court decisions demonstrate that R.E. does not stand for all of the propositions that school districts would like to believe it stands for.  And why should it?  If an IEP team agrees that a child requires a small, structured school environment, how could a school district take the position that it does not have to present any testimony regarding the recommended public school to prove that, in fact, the public school offers a small school environment?  But this is how school districts have been operating.  And in a place like New York City where the Department of Education seems to have "categories" into which it places students (or "buckets" as I once heard a colleague articulate it) rather than investing the time and resources to make more individualized recommendations that take into account the child's unique needs, these problems can become even more pernicious.

School districts have a tendency to think with their purses.  It is perhaps understandable, but by no means justifiable, that a school district might make important decisions about a child's education based on the resources it has available and not based on the individual needs of that child regardless of cost.  U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has previously recognized that "school districts striving to balance their budgets, if left to their own devices, will favor educational options that enable them to conserve resources."  It is now well-established, however, that a school district's obligation is to provide children with disabilities with interventions and supports according to the unique needs of those children, and not based on administrative convenience or what resources the school district has available.

In the course of its decision, the Second Circuit did state that a school district "may select the specific school without the advice of the parents so long as it conforms to the program offered in the IEP."  What exactly that means may be open to interpretation.  It is not clear to me why it would make sense for a school district to choose a public school without giving the parents an opportunity to voice their opinion and/or concerns about that public school.  With respect to that narrow issue relating to parental involvement, an appeal is being sought from the Second Circuit's opinion.  Therefore the case may be heard by the United States Supreme Court if a writ of certiorari is granted, in which case Justice Ginsburg would have another opportunity to chime in on the questionable practices and purported policies of cash-strapped school districts.

Monday, April 15, 2013

CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein Planning To Step Down

The chancellor of the City University of New York, Matthew Goldstein, has decided that he will step down this summer after 14 years of service.  Chancellor Goldstein's work affected my college experience directly so this news is particularly meaningful to me.  When he took it upon himself to revamp the city university program, one of his initiatives was what is known today as the Macaulay Honors College (back in 2001 it was known as the CUNY Honors College).  When I first entered the Macaulay program, Matthew Goldstein was among the first individuals that I met.  I remember that he shared a close relationship with Dr. Laura Schor, the founding dean of the program.  They brainstormed and collaborated together, and even when Chancellor Goldstein was not around, his name was mentioned and his presence was felt.  I also remember those occasions when he was around.  Although it feels like ages ago and my memory may not be 100%, I remember attending a cocktail party at a fancy reception hall in Manhattan with Chancellor Goldstein, Dr. Laura Schor, and Mr. Benno Schmidt (who at the time I believe was on the CUNY board of directors, and now serves as chairman of the board) warmly welcoming us freshmen into the Macaulay program.  It became apparent, during my time in the program and afterward, that Chancellor Goldstein was responsible for a tremendous amount of fundraising during the time that he served as chancellor.  Even the evening of the cocktail party, I recall the chancellor at the microphone talking about the "largess" that was responsible for making the honors program a reality.  Although that may have been the first time I came across the term largess, I quickly understood that the chancellor was talking about the great generosity from donors that had made the Macaulay program possible...no doubt a result of Mr. Goldstein's aggressive fundraising efforts.  I remember being introduced to Roger Hertog, a generous benefactor of Macaulay, whom Chancellor Goldstein must have had in mind when speaking about largess.  I also remember attending a CUNY-TV taping, featuring Matthew Goldstein interviewing Roger Hertog, which I remember being an interesting experience at the time, but in retrospect seems like an even more interesting experience now that I have a richer understanding of and appreciation for those individuals.  Hertog was just one donor among many.  More recently, the program benefited from the generosity of man named Bill Macaulay.  As a result, the program now boasts a beautiful building on West 67th Street off of Central Park West which serves as a home base for Macaulay students and alumni. 

Over the last couple of years, I have continued to cross paths with Chancellor Goldstein on occasion.  I had the pleasure of hearing Chancellor Goldstein speak at the Macaulay building for an event honoring the current dean, Ann Kirschner.  I recently exchanged brief words with him at a Crain's panel event on education.  Whether he knows it or not, his tenure as chancellor has influenced me greatly.  I don't know that I have ever had the opportunity to personally express that to him in the past.  Thank you Chancellor Goldstein for all your hard work.  I have personally benefited a great deal from the program that you helped shape.  You will be missed as chancellor and I wish you good luck with your next endeavor.       

Sunday, April 14, 2013

School Choice: What Of It?

This post almost got scrapped.  An article I saw in yesterday's paper motivated me to try to revive it (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/13/opinion/teachers-will-we-ever-learn.html?src=me&ref=general&_r=0).  

Lately it seems like the school choice debate is everywhere.  People seem to be either very opinionated in favor of school choice ("school choice! school choice! school choice!") or dead set against it ("it's a recipe for disaster!").  [For example... Diane Ravitch, an education historian, in her book The Death And Life Of The Great American School System, devotes a whole chapter to the problems with "choice" in education.  Great read, by the way.]   

Over the last several weeks I have come across numerous articles relating to school choice.  Some articles have had to do with voucher programs, many have had to do with charter schools.  A few weeks ago the Wall Street Journal declared an "Indiana voucher victory."  The article discussed how the Indiana state court, over the objections of the teachers' unions, upheld the validity of the state's "Choice Scholarship Program" to make vouchers available to certain eligible individuals (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324789504578384494175407924.html) (see also http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323605404578384542365022664.html).  From my limited research, it seems that various states have experimented with some form of vouchers with mixed results.  Charter schools have also had mixed results and mixed sentiments.  Some have hailed charter schools as "exciting and demonstrably successful schools," and encouraged the federal government to play a more active role in their expansion (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324557804578376301012270328.html).  Some have warned that "states will only replicate mediocrity if they expand charters too quickly" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/02/opinion/more-lessons-about-charter-schools.html).  David Kirp, in his new book Improbable Scholars, asserts that "despite the hosannas for charters, the bulk of the research shows that, overall, they don't do a better job than traditional public schools."  In his opinion, "[e]xemplary charter schools, like the national network of KIPP [Knowledge Is Power Program] academies and the Green Dot schools in Los Angeles and New York City, have indeed worked wonders . . . .  But those top-drawer academies only serve a tiny minority of students . . . .  Nationwide 3% of students attend charters, many of them ordinary or worse."

What I think becomes clear from the ongoing debate is that school choice cannot be viewed in black and white terms, whether it is a good thing or a bad thing.  Instead, the discussion needs to be more nuanced.  Let's stick with the example of charter schools.  While there are some charter school networks that have demonstrated a consistent track record of academic success and achievement, there are other charter schools that have failed.  While it may be true that charter schools are subject to fewer restrictions that limit innovation, that doesn't mean that any charter school can flourish.  As these articles suggest, by looking carefully at programs that have succeeded and programs that have failed, we get a sense that there are certain questions we need to be asking:

How rigorous is the process for charter licensing in a particular state?
What kind of oversight is in place to monitor progress?  

By what standards are we judging charter school success? 
To what extent is the city/state involved in providing support?
Is the charter school being run by a proven "management organization"? 

Are non-performing charter schools being closed? 
Are academic gains being sustained over the long-term? 
In what ways is the quality of teaching being elevated in charter schools? 
Are charter schools modifying their approaches based on geographic factors? 

At the end of the day charter schools and voucher programs are still relatively new.  Public schools have had ages to make mistakes, learn from their mistakes, implement changes, and make more mistakes.  While I don't believe it makes sense to continue programs that are consistently failing, we do owe it to ourselves to continue exploring which non-traditional programs are working, understand why they are working, and figure out ways that those positive results can be replicated more broadly.