Archive for the ‘Gwinnett County Special Education’ Tag

Your denial of the importance of true diversity to maintain the status quo doesn’t fool me   3 comments

Part of my (late) morning (or even afternoon) ritual is to read the Atlanta-Journal Constitution (AJC) for stories related to education. My first stop is usually the GetSchooled blog by Maureen Downey, then on to education articles by Aileen Dodd, as they often write on some interesting topics.  This morning there was an article written by Aileen that caught my eye: Broad Prize win makes diversity a focus in Gwinnett school board race.’   My interest is not solely motivated by the fact that it is election time (Subliminal Message: VOTE), but instead because I live in Gwinnett County and my kids attend school here. If you read my blog on a regular basis then you know I am not one to mince words when it comes to the school system. Yes, the district recently won the Broad Prize in Urban Education, but that does not exclude this district from having issues regarding race, disparities in the number and severity of disciplinary actions against minority students, or even the overrepresentation of minority students receiving services through Special Education. I have written about these issues time and time again. Sadly, it appears that only minorities (and a handful of White people) are genuinely concerned about the ramifications of these institutionally racist (yes, that is the correct application of the word racist) policies because we are the only ones to voice concerns. But I take offense at people who try to deny the importance of diversity, especially within a county and school district that is now majority-minority.

A few weeks ago, Maureen wrote a blog post based on interviews she conducted with the two school board candidates for District 4 in Gwinnett County: Dr. Robert McClure and Mark Williams. Dr. McClure does not have a web site or Facebook page. I assume he never created them because he has almost always ran uncontested. McClure, like many other people within the community, denies that the board lacks diversity. All five board members are White and have served for many years. (Side Note: One of the members is fairly old; I could swear I saw her doze off during a board meeting.) Williams stated that it would be impossible for staff and leadership to truly reflect the community. He did add this: ‘However, you can put in place a staff and leadership that respects the broad range of diversity that exists in the county.’ Kinda sounds like he wants to say diversity matters, but he may be weary of directly doing so because it may cost him some votes. Newsflash: The people who live in District 4 fall into two groups: Those who are aware of their own diversity and those who have tried to run from it. We know that there are more Black and Latino families in this community; we see it everyday. No one will fault you for acknowledging that the district has not done enough to keep up with its rapidly-changing, demographics. Denying the significance of and need for diversity makes about as much sense as Barack Obama denying the significance of his blackness…oh wait, he did allude to that, didn’t he? OK, bad example.

I will not repeat my concerns with this district or its leaders because I am starting to sound like a broken record. It is a sad commentary that incendiary and culturally insensitive remarks can be made by education leaders without ramifications. It’s even more dangerous to reward those same leaders with million dollar prizes and accolades. Your acknowledgement of their achievements should not come at the expense of excusing their bouts with foot-in-mouth disease or offending the very people for whom the district received credit in assisting (closing the opportunity gap). As long as school board elections are low on the list of priorities of most voters, this district’s leadership will continue to move forward, business as usual. The same homogeneous group will continue to make decisions for a group of vastly different children, without input from parents, experts on diversity issues, or without consideration for the reality that holding an office for an extended period does not mean you are the most qualified individual for the job. It simply means that you have been a member of this community longer and, therefore, possess more name recognition than someone who may actually bring a diverse viewpoint and new ideas to the table. Winning a monetary prize does not exclude you from being respectful of diversity, the manner in which your system has continuously failed students with Special Needs (check the dismal numbers), or addressing the obvious disciplinary disparities between Black, Latino, and White students.

By all means, winning money is simply a means to maintaining the status quo. Interpret as you wish.

Special Education: Doing the ‘Right Thing’ even when nobody’s looking   Leave a comment

A few days ago, I wrote a blog about a parent I met this summer. Her son was diagnosed with several disabilities, but the story is the same: Parent of a child with a disability is completely overwhelmed with jargon and paperwork; s/he doesn’t understand any of it. Naively, s/he believes that the school/district have her child’s best interest at heart. I have seen this too many times, and not just in Georgia. The parent I met this summer lives in Ohio; I have also helped two parents who live in Indiana. This goes beyond coincidence. And it needs to stop.

So as I talked with this other parent last week, my frustration returned. I couldn’t help but wonder how other parents would feel so I thought I would ask you (that means you have to actually respond!). So, if you were (or actually are) the parent of a child with a disability, how would you feel if:

  1. Your child spent the first 2 weeks of school with a building sub instead of a certified and ‘Highly Qualified’ Special Education teacher? (Considering how often the education experts are always mentioning the importance of qualified teachers, this should be important, right?)
  2. When you ask the building administrator (‘leader’) why there is no qualified teacher assigned to the class, he responds: Well we have interviewed several people. I didn’t click with some of them but we have someone who will likely be hired by next Friday (August 27th), provided all the paperwork is completed and everything goes as planned.’ (GTFOH with that BS)
  3. After speaking with the ‘leader’ of the school, you speak with the Special Education Department Chair. In an effort to rectify the situation, she offers to do a student ‘swap.’ That is, she offers to remove a kid from the certified and ‘Highly Qualified’ teacher’s room to make room for your kid. (See parenthetical comments for #2 and repeat.)
  4. When given options about placement, you (parent) decide to withdraw your child and enroll him/her in another school that has the correct Special Education program and qualified staff. ‘Leader’ completes withdrawal paperwork and sends you to School B. You arrive at School B, where Special Education staff tells you that they have room for your child. Unfortunately, you cannot enroll your child on that day because School A did not give you all the required records/paperwork. You inform staff that you will return in the morning to enroll your child.
  5. (Next day) You contact School B to make sure that you can still enroll your child. You are told that there is no room available. Within less than 24 hours. After you drove from School A to School B and back to School A the previous day. (You already know.)
  6. Well, 2 weeks of the school year have already passed and you need to find a placement for your child. What do you do? Look at the list of schools accepting transfers. You decide that you need to find someplace for her to go and PDQ (Pretty Dam Quick) because you don’t want to have to deal with attendance issues with the district. So you settle on a school that is 16 miles away from your house. Each way. Four times a day. That’s 64 miles a day. Five times a week. No matter how you slice it, that’s a lot of driving that will require a lot of gas for the car. For a single, unemployed parent that’s a lot of money.

So, what would you do if you were in this situation? The mom is pretty upset and I have already made some phone calls and sent some really ‘official’ sounding letters. People are starting to get nervous because: (1) I will not provide them with her name or the district’s name; and (2) I used the phrase ‘legal representation’ in the letter. Oh well. Sucks to be them because it’s obvious the district has violated the law. It’s really unfortunate because they thought by getting the name of the district they would be able to make things right before the mom has the opportunity to speak with an attorney. No dice. It’s time for people to do the right thing, even if nobody’s looking.

Stay tuned for the next installment in “I swear I couldn’t make-up this crap even if I tried,’ also known as public education.

Special Education: Doing the 'Right Thing' even when nobody's looking   Leave a comment

A few days ago, I wrote a blog about a parent I met this summer. Her son was diagnosed with several disabilities, but the story is the same: Parent of a child with a disability is completely overwhelmed with jargon and paperwork; s/he doesn’t understand any of it. Naively, s/he believes that the school/district have her child’s best interest at heart. I have seen this too many times, and not just in Georgia. The parent I met this summer lives in Ohio; I have also helped two parents who live in Indiana. This goes beyond coincidence. And it needs to stop.

So as I talked with this other parent last week, my frustration returned. I couldn’t help but wonder how other parents would feel so I thought I would ask you (that means you have to actually respond!). So, if you were (or actually are) the parent of a child with a disability, how would you feel if:

  1. Your child spent the first 2 weeks of school with a building sub instead of a certified and ‘Highly Qualified’ Special Education teacher? (Considering how often the education experts are always mentioning the importance of qualified teachers, this should be important, right?)
  2. When you ask the building administrator (‘leader’) why there is no qualified teacher assigned to the class, he responds: Well we have interviewed several people. I didn’t click with some of them but we have someone who will likely be hired by next Friday (August 27th), provided all the paperwork is completed and everything goes as planned.’ (GTFOH with that BS)
  3. After speaking with the ‘leader’ of the school, you speak with the Special Education Department Chair. In an effort to rectify the situation, she offers to do a student ‘swap.’ That is, she offers to remove a kid from the certified and ‘Highly Qualified’ teacher’s room to make room for your kid. (See parenthetical comments for #2 and repeat.)
  4. When given options about placement, you (parent) decide to withdraw your child and enroll him/her in another school that has the correct Special Education program and qualified staff. ‘Leader’ completes withdrawal paperwork and sends you to School B. You arrive at School B, where Special Education staff tells you that they have room for your child. Unfortunately, you cannot enroll your child on that day because School A did not give you all the required records/paperwork. You inform staff that you will return in the morning to enroll your child.
  5. (Next day) You contact School B to make sure that you can still enroll your child. You are told that there is no room available. Within less than 24 hours. After you drove from School A to School B and back to School A the previous day. (You already know.)
  6. Well, 2 weeks of the school year have already passed and you need to find a placement for your child. What do you do? Look at the list of schools accepting transfers. You decide that you need to find someplace for her to go and PDQ (Pretty Dam Quick) because you don’t want to have to deal with attendance issues with the district. So you settle on a school that is 16 miles away from your house. Each way. Four times a day. That’s 64 miles a day. Five times a week. No matter how you slice it, that’s a lot of driving that will require a lot of gas for the car. For a single, unemployed parent that’s a lot of money.

So, what would you do if you were in this situation? The mom is pretty upset and I have already made some phone calls and sent some really ‘official’ sounding letters. People are starting to get nervous because: (1) I will not provide them with her name or the district’s name; and (2) I used the phrase ‘legal representation’ in the letter. Oh well. Sucks to be them because it’s obvious the district has violated the law. It’s really unfortunate because they thought by getting the name of the district they would be able to make things right before the mom has the opportunity to speak with an attorney. No dice. It’s time for people to do the right thing, even if nobody’s looking.

Stay tuned for the next installment in “I swear I couldn’t make-up this crap even if I tried,’ also known as public education.

Do you keep pushing when others can’t (or won’t) ‘see’ your vision?   4 comments

Approximately 1.5 years ago our organization, Millennium Scholars Academy (MSA), submitted a charter petition to the Gwinnett County Board of Education. We proposed to open the first K-12 Visual and Performing Arts (tuition-free) charter school in the county. At the time that we submitted our petition, we had enrollment commitments for 160 students, ranging from grades K-9; we even had parents whose children were not school-age who asked us to consider adding a Pre-K program!

The board denied our petition, citing several reasons, including the following: (1) looping/multi-year classrooms were already being implemented in schools throughout the county; (2) our plans for the arts program was too extensive to do during the traditional school day (Kennedy Center Arts Edge Standards); and (3) Understanding by Design was not research based. As required by the state, I responded to the board’s deficiencies. I even went so far as to imply that looping implementation must be based on the zip code of the school because, to my knowledge, none of the schools in my community were participating. Guess whose daughter is now in the only looping classroom in the entire school? I also emailed Grant Wiggins and asked him what he thought about the board’s response to using UbD. He responded as I expected a well-educated and well-respected educational researcher would. I got a good laugh out of his response!

This year’s charter petition deadline is March 25, even though the state’s Charter School Division requires districts to follow its guideline (SMH). I am still debating whether or not to submit the revised petition and pay for 20 copies of a 100 page document, when I know that no matter how much research I cite to support our instructional model and curriculum, it all boils down to whether you assuage the superintendent and the board members. My alma mater did not (and still does not) offer degrees in ass-kissing). Several months ago when I thought about taking a different approach, I contacted the school system to request demographic information for the Gifted and Special Education programs. I was curious. I wanted to know who was being served in each program, by the numbers. After being transferred to the wrong person three or four times, I finally got connected with the correct person. He told me that the district did not have that information readily available; therefore, they would have to create a ‘special’ report to the tune of $400. I thought to myself: Yeah right. Me, being the resourceful person I am (and watching 20 years of Law& Order) decided to submit the same Open Records Request to the Georgia Department of Education. Glad I did! I got the same ‘report’ for $48. People will sure find create a way to keep the public from obtaining damning information.

Now that I have this data, I am debating on whether to use it as evidence that we (the people in the southern area of Gwinnett County-Snellville, Lilburn, & Loganville, mostly minority) need a charter school within reasonable distance from our homes (less than 45 minutes). Gwinnett County is the largest district in Georgia, serving approximately 160,000 kids. There are currently only 3 charter schools in the entire district: (1) Ivy Prep Academy-an all-girls’ charter school; (2) New Life Academy of Excellence; and (3) Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, & Technology-which came under scrutiny because it resembles a magnet school more than a charter. Ivy Prep is unique in that it is the first and only all -girls charter school in the state. The local board denied the petition because they were ‘cautious’ of the potential legal challenges that a single gender school could bring. I guess they hadn’t gotten around to reading that former President George W. Bush authorized single gender education, especially when it was used to address significant achievement disparities. Seeing as how this is a red state, I just knew they were up on his legislation. SMH

So here’s the dilemna: Should I use the data in the petition since our school will implement the Accelerated School model, created by Henry Levin? This model was created as a way to close the achievement gap (long before it became a catchphrase) for minority kids and those from low-income families who did not have access to rigorous curricula and Gifted Education programs (see statistic above about high percentage of SES students in Special Education). Of the 22,138 students served in Gwinnett County’s Gifted Education program last year (2008-09), here is the breakdown:

  • 12.9% African American
  • 6.5% Hispanic/Latino
  • 1.9% English Language Learners
  • 18.8% Free & Reduced Lunch eligible (no break-down of race)

This means that 59% of Gifted Students are either White or Asian. Since Gwinnett’s Asian student population is very small (11%), it is safe to conclude that the majority of students in Gifted Education programs are White (non-minority, if that makes anyone feel better). For the same school year, African Americans and Hispanic/Latino students accounted for 28% and 22% of the district’s total enrollment, respectively. So if our kids aren’t represented in Gifted Education programs, then where are they? Let’s see who’s representin’ in Special Education. For the same academic year, Gwinnett County had a total of 21,202 students in Special Education, with the following breakdown:

  • 33.7% African American (but we are only 28% of total district population)
  • 20.2% Hispanic/Latino
  • 7.8 % English Language Learners
  • 56.4% Free & Reduced Lunch eligible

Well the minorities are certainly in the majority, but not in a good way: African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos account for more than 50% of the Special Education population. If I didn’t know any better, I would think that parents should resign any hope for their children and accept the odds that their children are more suitable for Special Education (remediation, in some cases) than advanced learning opportunities, or even age/grade appropriate learning opportunities. Especially troubling is the fact that district officials (superintendent, special program coordinators, and even state officials) are aware of the disparities, but have done nothing to address them. Hiring a few tokens to work at the district office does not count, FYI. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

The more I think about this data, the negative consequences (to those of us who care about our kids being told they are mediocre and should not strive to be anything other than that), and the fact that NO ONE has the cajones to call these people out..the more disgusted I become. I am disgusted with these states and their paltry, half-assed attempts to address the achevement gap by allowing profit-hungry vultures (e.g., some EMO/CMO groups) to open charter schools in ‘the poorest communities,’ but deny those same opportunities to people who actually live there, not just those who commute into the communities. I am equally pissed about these false claims of restructuring education in Race to the Top applications. No one addresses the enrollment disparities of minority students in Gifted and Special Education programs. Even though the research is more than 20 years old, no one says a thing. As if ignoring the problem will make it go away. Unless districts start taking responsibility for perpetuating these exclusionary practices and states do better to hold them accountable, we can forget about making any significant dent in the achievement gap. Period. End of discussion.

Damn. So much for Brown v. Board of Education, huh?

Do you keep pushing when others can't (or won't) 'see' your vision?   4 comments

Approximately 1.5 years ago our organization, Millennium Scholars Academy (MSA), submitted a charter petition to the Gwinnett County Board of Education. We proposed to open the first K-12 Visual and Performing Arts (tuition-free) charter school in the county. At the time that we submitted our petition, we had enrollment commitments for 160 students, ranging from grades K-9; we even had parents whose children were not school-age who asked us to consider adding a Pre-K program!

The board denied our petition, citing several reasons, including the following: (1) looping/multi-year classrooms were already being implemented in schools throughout the county; (2) our plans for the arts program was too extensive to do during the traditional school day (Kennedy Center Arts Edge Standards); and (3) Understanding by Design was not research based. As required by the state, I responded to the board’s deficiencies. I even went so far as to imply that looping implementation must be based on the zip code of the school because, to my knowledge, none of the schools in my community were participating. Guess whose daughter is now in the only looping classroom in the entire school? I also emailed Grant Wiggins and asked him what he thought about the board’s response to using UbD. He responded as I expected a well-educated and well-respected educational researcher would. I got a good laugh out of his response!

This year’s charter petition deadline is March 25, even though the state’s Charter School Division requires districts to follow its guideline (SMH). I am still debating whether or not to submit the revised petition and pay for 20 copies of a 100 page document, when I know that no matter how much research I cite to support our instructional model and curriculum, it all boils down to whether you assuage the superintendent and the board members. My alma mater did not (and still does not) offer degrees in ass-kissing). Several months ago when I thought about taking a different approach, I contacted the school system to request demographic information for the Gifted and Special Education programs. I was curious. I wanted to know who was being served in each program, by the numbers. After being transferred to the wrong person three or four times, I finally got connected with the correct person. He told me that the district did not have that information readily available; therefore, they would have to create a ‘special’ report to the tune of $400. I thought to myself: Yeah right. Me, being the resourceful person I am (and watching 20 years of Law& Order) decided to submit the same Open Records Request to the Georgia Department of Education. Glad I did! I got the same ‘report’ for $48. People will sure find create a way to keep the public from obtaining damning information.

Now that I have this data, I am debating on whether to use it as evidence that we (the people in the southern area of Gwinnett County-Snellville, Lilburn, & Loganville, mostly minority) need a charter school within reasonable distance from our homes (less than 45 minutes). Gwinnett County is the largest district in Georgia, serving approximately 160,000 kids. There are currently only 3 charter schools in the entire district: (1) Ivy Prep Academy-an all-girls’ charter school; (2) New Life Academy of Excellence; and (3) Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, & Technology-which came under scrutiny because it resembles a magnet school more than a charter. Ivy Prep is unique in that it is the first and only all -girls charter school in the state. The local board denied the petition because they were ‘cautious’ of the potential legal challenges that a single gender school could bring. I guess they hadn’t gotten around to reading that former President George W. Bush authorized single gender education, especially when it was used to address significant achievement disparities. Seeing as how this is a red state, I just knew they were up on his legislation. SMH

So here’s the dilemna: Should I use the data in the petition since our school will implement the Accelerated School model, created by Henry Levin? This model was created as a way to close the achievement gap (long before it became a catchphrase) for minority kids and those from low-income families who did not have access to rigorous curricula and Gifted Education programs (see statistic above about high percentage of SES students in Special Education). Of the 22,138 students served in Gwinnett County’s Gifted Education program last year (2008-09), here is the breakdown:

  • 12.9% African American
  • 6.5% Hispanic/Latino
  • 1.9% English Language Learners
  • 18.8% Free & Reduced Lunch eligible (no break-down of race)

This means that 59% of Gifted Students are either White or Asian. Since Gwinnett’s Asian student population is very small (11%), it is safe to conclude that the majority of students in Gifted Education programs are White (non-minority, if that makes anyone feel better). For the same school year, African Americans and Hispanic/Latino students accounted for 28% and 22% of the district’s total enrollment, respectively. So if our kids aren’t represented in Gifted Education programs, then where are they? Let’s see who’s representin’ in Special Education. For the same academic year, Gwinnett County had a total of 21,202 students in Special Education, with the following breakdown:

  • 33.7% African American (but we are only 28% of total district population)
  • 20.2% Hispanic/Latino
  • 7.8 % English Language Learners
  • 56.4% Free & Reduced Lunch eligible

Well the minorities are certainly in the majority, but not in a good way: African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos account for more than 50% of the Special Education population. If I didn’t know any better, I would think that parents should resign any hope for their children and accept the odds that their children are more suitable for Special Education (remediation, in some cases) than advanced learning opportunities, or even age/grade appropriate learning opportunities. Especially troubling is the fact that district officials (superintendent, special program coordinators, and even state officials) are aware of the disparities, but have done nothing to address them. Hiring a few tokens to work at the district office does not count, FYI. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

The more I think about this data, the negative consequences (to those of us who care about our kids being told they are mediocre and should not strive to be anything other than that), and the fact that NO ONE has the cajones to call these people out..the more disgusted I become. I am disgusted with these states and their paltry, half-assed attempts to address the achevement gap by allowing profit-hungry vultures (e.g., some EMO/CMO groups) to open charter schools in ‘the poorest communities,’ but deny those same opportunities to people who actually live there, not just those who commute into the communities. I am equally pissed about these false claims of restructuring education in Race to the Top applications. No one addresses the enrollment disparities of minority students in Gifted and Special Education programs. Even though the research is more than 20 years old, no one says a thing. As if ignoring the problem will make it go away. Unless districts start taking responsibility for perpetuating these exclusionary practices and states do better to hold them accountable, we can forget about making any significant dent in the achievement gap. Period. End of discussion.

Damn. So much for Brown v. Board of Education, huh?