It's teacher hunting season!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Bloomberg Contempt for Special Education; State Legislators Oppose Mayoral Control, Without UFT Push

Anyone seriously noticing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's policies toward special education students gets the idea that he views them as a problem that won't go away. Just read United Federation of Teachers Vice President for Special Education Carmen Alvarez's letter on the mayor's practices.
The Department of Education is rolling out its special education reform to all 1,700 city schools next year. The expectation is that nearly all incoming elementary, middle school and high school students with disabilities will attend the same school they would attend if they didn’t have Individualized Education Programs.
The stated goals of the reform for students with disabilities are to: 1. close the achievement gap; 2. increase access to and participation in the general education curriculum; and 3. build school-based support through greater curricular, instructional and scheduling flexibility. This week the DOE began to put meat on the bones of these lofty statements. It wasn’t pretty.
The real agenda is laid bare in the 50-page “Flexible Programming Guide” [UFT link to DOE document] developed for principals. We’ve been hearing about flexible programming for a couple of years now. The way that it has been explained by the DOE actually made some sense: It called on schools to mix and match special education services based on student needs in various content areas. But my antennae always go up when I hear the word “flexible” as it almost never means anything good. I am sorry to say that my instincts were right.
Reading between the lines, this is the message that the DOE is sending to principals through the examples in the guide:
· Unless the recommendation is for service provided in the general education class, assume the IEP team did not understand the child’s true needs in recommending services.
· Less service is better than more service and push-in service is better than pull-out.
· Schools shouldn’t open self-contained classes even if they have enough students with IEP recommendations to fill them.
· Students with significant behavioral challenges recommended for full-time self-contained classes can be adequately supported in general education classes with counseling during lunch or in class a couple of days a week.
· It is never appropriate to recommend that a student attend another school that can actually provide the services on the student’s IEP.
· Paraprofessional services should be used infrequently and when used, they should be part-time, provided in a group and time-limited.
Let me tell you what is wrong with this picture. Placement decisions, including decisions regarding location of services and intensity of services, are made by the child’s IEP team.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, it is impermissible to recommend services based on the availability of the program or personnel, space, budget or administrative convenience.
Yes, IEP teams must consider the least restrictive environment in which the child’s needs can be met and, where possible, students should be served in the schools and classrooms they would attend if they did not have a disability. But if the child’s needs require that the child attend a school other than the school he would attend if not disabled, or that the child receive related services in a therapy room, that is the least restrictive environment for that child.
We have combed the research study that the DOE cites in all of its public presentations and we cannot find support for the DOE’s sweeping conclusions about the academic benefit of serving students with disabilities in general education settings. The research tells us that students who perform several years below grade level require intensive and explicit instruction with ongoing progress monitoring, not a few periods of team teaching or Special Education Teacher Support Services.
Where did this come from? Deputy Chancellor Laura Rodriguez and Special Education Director Lauren Katzman have publicly stated that the purpose of this reform is to increase options for students with disabilities, not to dismantle programs and services recommended by IEP teams or to eliminate special education classes.
Where is the data from Phase I of this reform that shows that the IEP changes outlined in the guide improve student achievement and reduce challenging behavior?
The DOE previewed its plans at the Citywide Council on Special Education meeting in March. Nothing in that presentation suggested that the DOE would be asking schools to make changes in student IEPs of this magnitude.
Is this why they are hiding the guide in a link only available to principals? Why are they saying one thing and doing another? Where is the transparency and accountability?
We can hear their excuses now: “It wasn’t us, we just make policy. It was poorly implemented by the networks.”
Read the UFT's online guide, Special Education Reform. Let us know how this is playing out at your school. File a special education complaint immediately if your principal says self-contained classes have been eliminated, directs you to change IEPs to recommend a particular service, or tells you that you can recommend only services that are available in your building.
If you receive written directives, email them to me at or fax them to my office at 1-212-254-5579. In the meantime, I will work with our partners in the parent and advocacy community as well as our elected officials to stop the doublespeak from the DOE and bring true research-based reform to special education in New York City.

To boot, one should also notice that special education students get last priority in charter school seats.

Is it any wonder that parents are pushing to end mayoral control?
Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (Brooklyn) when speaking yesterday on WWRL AM radio cited parents, not the union (UFT), as the factor that has pushed her to introduce a bill in the New York State legislature to eliminate mayoral control.
Carl Campanile's story in the New York Post, excerpted:
Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn) and Assemblyman Keith Wright (D-Harlem) claim that the 10-year experiment giving City Hall sole power over educational matters has been a failure.
And Montgomery has won the support of the ranking Democrat on the Senate Education Committee, Suzi Oppenheimer (D-Westchester), who has signed on as co-sponsor to the measure.

'There’s a lot of support for reversing mayoral control. This bill does that.’ — State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, whose push to repeal mayoral oversight of city schools has the approval of prominent Democratic state Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer (above), a co-sponsor of the measure

The mayoral control law is not up renewal until June 30, 2015. But under their bills, the two legislators call for overhauling the law this year.
“There’s a lot of support for reversing mayoral control and creating a more independent board in terms of setting educational policy and hiring the chancellor. This bill does that,” Montgomery said.
. . .
But it’s precisely these changes that the lawmakers cite in fueling their bid to roll back mayoral control. Both Montgomery and Wright have opposed school closings and co-locating charter schools in facilities with traditional public schools.
“It’s been a very unpopular process having this top-down decision-making with no one able to weigh in. Having a singular authority with total power on all the decisions has not worked out for all of the children,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery’s bill would strip the mayor’s control over school policy by cutting his appointments to the 13-member citywide school board in half, from eight to four members. The City Council would appoint four members and the borough presidents one apiece.
And the board, rather than the mayor, would select the chancellor.

Read more at the Post.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. While all the politicians have been talking about the importance of small businesses, the DOE has as of this past week, totally destroyed mine. Because of their new policy with NO NOTICE at all, I will be forced to layoff my entire staff. And let me tell you, my staff is phenomenal. The kids we see in our office in Brooklyn (Park Slope Communication Center) get the best of the best. Now that shortens how long they need therapy. My questions are then 1) doesn't that save the city money in the long run? and 2) if they have to change the policy about how related services are provided why did they wait until the school year to start to tell us?

      Let me tell you what the DOE administrators have been forced to do by a DOE run by lawyers and business people. I am a speech and language therapist and I have been providing services to DOE kids for over 20 years. Over the years, therapeutic services have been basically outsourced to therapy agencies.The fee they paid has not ever, ever gone up, by the way, and yet out of dedication to our craft, we continued to see these kids. Several years ago, the city started taking bids for agencies to provide therapy at a rate lower than what they pay individual providers or small agencies such as ours. These large, very large agencies were given many of the schools my little agency had worked with for years.

      Well this year, it is even worse. They now have what they call primary, secondary and tertiary agencies and then us. Last week, I attended via telephone a "turning five" meeting, during which time both the mom and I were told that there was no way I would be seeing her son anymore for speech and language therapy. The mother later told me she was appalled. Kids develop relationships, important relationships with their speech therapists. Think about it; we are working on communication skills and how important it is to have a client connect with the clinician he or she works with. I had a mother of an autistic boy whom I saw 5 times per week last year, in tears because she was told she must take him to this big agency, not to my little agency where he has come to feel comfortable and cared for and even loved for who he is. His language skills have blossomed unbelievably over the past year and now the mother has been told she must take him to a new place where he will undoubtedly backslide because he has a hard time adjusting to new people. I can't tell you how many calls I have had this week. Parents are threatening lawsuits and at the very least demanding impartial hearings but that takes at least a month.

      That will be too long for us to wait. My little agency will soon be an agency of one and several wonderful, talented and dedicated therapists will be unemployed.

      As my son says, that's what happens when lawyers are running the Board of Ed.