Tag Archives: Special Education

1 to 5 Star Ratings Are Being Pushed by Some Members of the State’s ESSA Advisory Committee

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I was a member of the ESSA Advisory Committee and our last ESSA meeting was last week. I read the entire updated draft ESSA Plan, 90 + pages, and there are a few things that are very troubling – one being the state would like to move forward with the continued labeling of our public schools with a 1 to 5 star rating – similar to a hotel rating. There were members of the ESSA Advisory Committee who support the 1 to 5 star rating but there were members who opposed it. 

There are schools in Delaware that are allowed to select their students based on grades, attendance, behavior, a test, an interview, or a state assessment. There are schools in Delaware that have low percentages of ELL, Spec Ed and Low Income students compared to other schools in our state. How can we compare our schools when some schools can admit students based on academics? How can we compare schools when certain public schools are “Counseling out” students with disabilities  – other schools enrollment practices limits access to certain student populations? How can we compare schools when certain schools can say to a family this school is not the right fit for your child? How can we compare schools when some schools are testing in March compared to those schools that test in April or May? Our bigger schools will have to test earlier so they can test all the students to meet the 95% participation rate so they are not penalized and the smaller schools can afford more classroom time because the size of their school.

Recently, I wrote to the Department of Education, asking why Family Foundation Charter School was approved for a name change. DOE’s response was: Family Foundations Academy stated its rational for the name change was, “There have been many changes in the last two years for Family Foundations.  These changes have included new leadership, new curriculum and a new focus for our future.  With all of these changes we have been focusing on the impact we wish to have in New Castle County as well as the city of New Castle. We are deeply committed to seeing the children of New Castle actualize into adults that make a deep and positive impact on our future.   We want our name to reflect our focus on our community.

Family Foundations Charter School has had plenty of bad press during the last few years. Two of their former leaders were accused of misspending school funds and Federal prosecutors have charged one of the former leaders with theft. According to a Delaware Online article from January 2015, one leader made $73,956.02 in purchases with the cards, while the other leader spent a total of $20,673.85. I have provided a link to the Delaware Auditor’s Office audit on Family Foundation.  The Department of Education and the State Board of Education supported Family Foundations name change but is pushing for the 1 to 5 Star rating – so there is a different set of standards in place when it comes to some of our public schools. The state approved two/three name changes for Moyer Academy Charter School which eventually closed. Changing the name of a charter school attempts to conceal the issues, which in the end hurts the students and community. These schools should to keep their names so we can make sure they are actually improving and that they are transparent. How can our State Board of Education hold some of our public schools to a higher standard than others?  

Education Funding Improvement Commission, Are the Recommendations in Place Already?

Senate Joint Resolution Number 4 created the Education Funding Improvement Commission to review and make recommendations to modernize and improve Delaware’s System for Funding Public Education. The chair of this commission is former State Representative Scott from Dover. My impression from working with him on the House Education Committee, he is a big supporter of a weighted funding formula.  I do not support removing the unit count; I support enhancing it by adding a weighted funding formula, like the state does for Special Education.

Note: The state does not fund Basic Special Education kindergarten through 3rd grades. I filed House Bill 30 last year, it is currently in House Appropriations Committee, this would add Basic Special Education funding for kindergarten through 3rd grades.

After attending the meeting this week, I got the impression that the recommendations may already be developed, I could be wrong. I think we are heading down a dangerous road if the unit count is removed completely. Just because something has been in place for many years does not always mean it is a bad thing. Lets see if this commission and WEIC Funding Student Success Committee agree on each others recommendations.

Click here to read Senate Joint Resolution #4. You can read more about the commission by clicking here.

The commission is suppose to make recommendations regarding the following:

(1) Transitioning to a student-focused funding system and weighting funding based on demographic characteristics of students.

(2) Introducing more flexibility for the state, districts, and schools to raise and spend resources more effectively for their students.

(3) Improving the way revenues are collected and allocated for education throughout the State.

The Commission may also consider the following topics:

(1) The amount of funding necessary to prepare a student to be successful.

(2) More effective uses of current funding sources.

(3) Those groups of students that would benefit the most from receiving additional funding, such as low-income students, high-need students, rural students, and English language learners, and the amount of resources or nature of support that those groups would need to be successful.

(4) Adequacy of resources available for students with special needs.

(5) Whether additional resources are needed to better serve students who are homeless, have behavior challenges, or are adjudicated delinquent.

(6) Whether, and how, different types of funding should be allocated, including operational funds, capital funds, and grants.

(6) Ways to provide more flexibility for schools and districts to use funding to best serve student needs.

(7) Current and future system resource constraints and demographic trends.

Teachers and Parents, take a moment to answer this one question

You can pick more than one answer, add an answer and you can also leave a comment.

Dual Certified Spec Ed Teachers, Good Thing or Not?

I am extremely concerned with the direction our districts are going with respects to dual certified special education teachers. We have elementary schools which are serving ELL, Spec Ed and general education students and many of these students are also low income students. What seems to be the norm, correct me if I am wrong, if you are a dual certified special education teacher you have additional responsibilities than a teacher who is not dual certified. I am not saying that general education teachers who are not dual certified are not working as hard as a dual certified teacher; what I am saying is dual cert. teachers have more responsibilities that require an action with documentation such as IEP meetings, IEP paper work, implementing the IEP etc. The school districts and the State are getting two teachers in one at the same pay scale.

I was in Dover recently for the JFC meeting when JFC members were asking DOE questions about DOE salary scale. It was interesting to hear the Department of Education and their reasoning behind the salaries. They spoke about the need to be competitive in order to attract the best people. They spoke about people doing multiple jobs under one title and there was a need to pay them more.

We have teachers performing multiple jobs as well under one title and not receiving one penny more. We really need to rethink how we are educating our children here in Delaware and what is expected from our staff who are responsible for making this happen. The necessary resources that are needed in our classrooms are not there. We are demanding our teachers to do more and more with less and less. The teachers I know, want  to make a difference but cannot do that because of what is expected of them and what is lacking in their classrooms.

 

Funding Student Success Working Group Meeting – Update

A Washington Post story reported in January the following:

  • For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation.

The article goes on to say:

  • It also means that education policy, funding decisions and classroom instruction must adapt to the needy children who arrive at school each day.

Today was the Funding Student Success Working Group meeting at Baltz Elementary School.There were 13 committee members present and 2 members of the public.

Most think that Delaware’s Unit funding system is functional but lacks the necessary funding for Spec. Ed Basic Students kindergarten through 3rd grades, funding for English Language Learners (ELL) and students of poverty. Our system is primarily based on a unit system with some weighted funding for Special Education students, Basic 4th – 12th grades, Intensive K – 12th grades and Complex K – 12th grades, see § 1703 Unit of pupils.

The committee handed out an Analysis of Funding for Poverty Units which provided 10% to 15% of additional units based on a weighted % of poverty in a Red Clay. The group discussed adding bands to the analysis. For example: if a school had 60% of low income students they would receive a higher weighted percentage than a school that had 20% of low income students. They are looking at whether to focus on grade level poverty or focus on schools that have a higher concentration of low income students.

  • They are going to put together an additional analysis for Christina School District.
  • Connect with the other WEIC sub-committees and coordinate to see what other state agencies could provide to schools with high numbers of low income students.
  • Have IPA look at best practices of weighted funding formulas for ELL and low income students.

Many Concerns with Delaware Met Charter School

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I have many concerns about tonight’s Special Board meeting at Delaware Met Charter School. The impression I got from tonight’s meeting is chaos at the school. I am concerned about the principal being out and I did not hear if she was coming back; they just opened and no leader. The board spoke about clarity is needed around behavior issues and the need for accountability among students and teachers. They spoke about how the student population was challenging. A board member did state that the issues they are having are normal for any new school opening, I do not necessarily agree with that comment.

I spoke to someone after the meeting from Innovative Schools and asked why their financial reports were not posted online, they told me because they just started receiving money in July 2015. When I go to Delaware’s Online Checkbook, DE Met Charter School has been receiving funds for a few years now. In FY 2014 they spent over $287,000, FY 2015 they spent $201,000, and FY 2016 Period 1 and 2 $315,000.

The board focused a lot of their conversation around student cell phone usage and dress code issues.

They spoke about how the teachers did not have lesson plans in place. They were working on a master class schedule. Talked about staff needed to be on time. Classroom management was not there. They indicated that the school was closed last week for a few days so the teachers and staff could get things in order and to offer PD. Staff realizes urgency. Staff needs to focus on soft skills, rigor was not clear.

Some of the comments that were made by the board concerned me as well.

  • One board member asked about the students from alternative schools who were enrolled at the school without proper documentation.
  • Another board member said what are we going to do with students who are not a good fit here?
  • Someone from the staff commented how they have failed the students.
  • One board member stated that they thought there should be a strict no cell phone policy and a staff member said the students would not like that. I am wondering who is running the school?
  • Dress code may have to be a part of the long-term plan; don’t want to do too much to soon may upset the students.

I am very confused about the internship that students will go to during their 9th and 10th grades. The students write their own plan. Does the school have relationships with businesses in the area? Is it the schools job or the students job to find the internship?

Lots of questions and no answers, especially with no public comment. I am concerned about the students who are gong to this school. I don’t want the school to fail but to consider closing only after being open one month is extremely alarming. September 30th Unit Count is fast approaching, my concerns are what if the school decides to close after the money has been funded.

Special education – identifying the students and providing services is very important. If all the Spec Ed students have not been identified, the school will receive no funding after September 30th. If the student is intensive or complex you could be talking about a lot of funds that the school will not receive. How would they be able to pay for all of these services? They do not have a large staff what if a student need OT, PT, or Speech who is paying for these services?

Are the students going to have sports teams? What about physical education that is still required in high school? What about all the fun activities that go with a high school band, clubs, etc. I am not sure if these students are going to have any of these things.

Delaware Met Will Remain Open; Highlights of Meeting

I attended the Delaware Met Special meeting tonight with Rep. Kowalko. Here are a few things that I wrote down during the meeting.

  • During September the school has had climate issues.
  • Ms. Hunter the school’s leader is out on leave and the interim leader is Sean Gallager
  • Board member Nash Childs could not be there due to medical issues.
  • 218 students are enrolled – well below their necessary enrollment number 264 students
    • 60 of the students are students with IEPs – how many are basic, complex and intensive?
    • There may still be undocumented students who need an IEP.
  • Staff
    • 10 full time teachers
    • 2 Special Education teachers
    • recently hired 2 para
    • 1 Specialist – who does PE, Driver’s Ed, etc.
    • Principal
    • Counselor
    • Student Support person
    • They recently hired 3 full-time mentors
  • Line of Credit is available for unexpected short-term cost
  • Innovative Schools reported that the school is good to go financially
  • Going to block scheduling
  • Project Based Learning
  • Big Picture Model
  • Thursday Back to School Night
  • Once a month survey out to parents.
  • Students will received a survey every quarter.
  • Staff will receive a survey as well, did not mention how often.
  • It was mentioned that a personal connection was made with each family with a robo call and teachers were suppose to be contacting families, no one could report how many teachers actually spoke to a family member.

 

How many Delaware students with disabilities are also low income students?

In 2014, the Department of Education reported on DOE’s School Profile Page 35% of our Delaware public school students are low income and another 13.9% are students with disabilities. The September 30th Enrollment number for the 2014-2015 school year reported that 134,932 students were enrolled in Delaware public schools.

The total number of students attending public school in Delaware is reported to be 134,932 with 47,226 being low income students and 18,756 students being students with disabilities.

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I asked the Department of Education how many of the 18,756 students with disabilities are low income and their answer was 45% of the students with disabilities are also low income students 8,440.

graph (1)

Delaware provides additional funding for students with disabilities, there are three categories: Basic Special Education, Intensive Special Education, and Complex Special Education. Currently, Delaware does not fund a Basic Special Education student who is enrolled in Kindergarten through 3rd grade, go to § 1703 Unit of pupils for more details.

  • Preschool — 12.8
  • K-3 — 16.2
  • 4-12 Regular Education — 20
  • 4-12 Basic Special Education (Basic) — 8.4
  • Pre K-12 Intensive Special Education (Intensive) — 6
  • Pre K-12 Complex Special Education (Complex) — 2.6

January 2015, I introduced a bill, House Bill 30, which would add Basic Special Education funding for grades Kindergarten to 3rd grade. The House Education Committee released it and it was assigned to the House Appropriations Committee in March.

This bill provides State funding to kindergarten through third grade for basic special education. State funding already occurs for intensive and complex special education during these grades. Currently the basic special education funding runs from fourth through twelfth grade. This bill is an effort to promote earlier identification and assistance for basic special education needs which should then mitigate costs over the long term.
  • 81% of our enrolled pre-k students were identified with a disability.
  • There are currently 5,843 students (pre-k thru 3) identified last year in special education.
  • In 2013-2014 67.89% of 3rd grade special education students were below standards compared to 24.34% of general education 3rd grade students.
  • US DOE issued a report in June 2014 stating that Delaware was one of three states that was identified as “Needs Intervention” with respect to special education. The US DOE has targeted Delaware for federal intervention.
  • 3rd grade is an important year for reading; this is the year that students move from learning to read, decoding words using their knowledge of the alphabet – to reading to learn.
  • 3rd grade students who lack proficiency in reading are four times more likely to become high school dropouts.
  • 3rd grade proficiency is crucial for continued academic success.
  • House Bill 30 would add 136 more special education teachers to charters and district schools.
  • Delaware school districts every year have to apply for a class size waiver Title 14 – Chapter § 1705A (c) if their Kindergarten thru 3rd grade classrooms exceeds 22 students on the last school day in October in ELA, Math, Science and Social Studies. The local school board may vote to waive this at a public meeting before December 1st of each year. This bill would help to reduce class size in grades Kindergarten through 3rd grades.
  • The extra teachers will also help with Response to Intervention.
  • RTI is a practice of providing high quality instruction and interventions matched to a student’s need.
    • Tier 1 includes all students,
    • Tier 2 students with insufficient progress in Tier 1 in reading.
    • Tier 3 students are students who have not made progress in Tier 1 or Tier 2.
  • I surveyed the 5 school districts with regards to their RTI numbers. A total of 23,550 RTI students including 3,346 students with a disability are either in Tier 1, 2 or 3. No additional resources are given to the districts in order to support this initiative.