Let’s solve the right problems for Detroit’s students with disabilities — not recycle old ones

As Superintendent Nikolai Vitti approaches his first anniversary of leading the struggling Detroit Public Schools Community District, I commend him for his energy and vision. In particular, I applaud his focus on developing a robust curriculum and hiring great teachers, the foundations of any great school district.

However, his recently announced plans to create new specialized programs for students with disabilities are disconcerting to me, given decades of research demonstrating the benefits of inclusion.

Specifically, Vitti has discussed the possibility of creating specialized programs for students with autism, dyslexia, and hearing impairments. The motivation is twofold: to meet students’ needs and to offer distinct programs that will attract parents who have fled Detroit in search of higher quality schools.

I’ve spent 25 years both studying and actively trying to improve schools for students with disabilities, and I can understand why Vitti’s proposal may have appeal. (I’m now the head of the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools.) But while the specialized programs might fill a critical need immediately, I have seen the downside of creating such segregated programming....

Continue reading this article here.

New CRDC Findings Reveal Unacceptable Trend of Discriminatory Discipline in Schools Continues

Black students and students with disabilities are subject to disciplinary practices that exclude them from classroom instruction, creating additional barriers to their learning.

Washington, DC – The following statement was released today by Lauren Morando Rhim, Executive Director of the National Council for Special Education in Charter Schools, in response to the latest Civil Rights Data Collection findings:

“These findings confirm the unacceptable trend of black students, especially boys, and students with disabilities being subject to disciplinary practices that exclude them from classroom instruction, thereby creating additional barriers to their learning. In line with the 2014 guidance published by the Department of Education, we must continue to not only track data regarding these practices but also take focused steps towards introducing school and classroom level policies and practices that will provide critical supports to students and teachers that, if implemented with fidelity, can decrease the need to exclude students from opportunities to learn. We are discouraged by the data, but are confident that our community of advocates will reverse these trends through research, communications, and smart policymaking at the federal and local levels.”

BACKGROUND

Today, the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights released the findings of the 2015-2016 Civil Rights Data Collection. The massive database includes data from 17,337 school districts representing 96,360 schools enrolling 50.6 million students. The CRDC provides invaluable data regarding the status of students' civil rights across the nation and reflect OCR's commitment to ensuring that discussion related to civil rights are informed by data.

As with prior releases, NCSECS will be conducting a secondary analysis of the data set to examine the progress of both traditional public schools and charter schools. However, the data highlights published by the Department provide a somewhat discouraging preview. Most notably:

  • Black or African American students represent 15% of enrollment in public schools, but 31% of referrals to law enforcement or subjected to school-related arrests
  • Black males represent 8% of the population, but 25% of those receiving one or more out of school suspensions and 23% of the expulsions. 
  • Students with disabilities represent 12% of enrollment, but 28% of law enforcement referrals and subjected to school-related arrests, 26% of those receiving one or more out of school suspensions, and 24% of the expulsions.
  • Black or African American students represent 15% of the population, but 27% of the students restrained and 23% of the students secluded.
  • Students with disabilities represent 12% of the population, but 71% of those restrained and 66% of those secluded.

For more information on the NCSECS analysis of CRDC data, visit this NCSECS webpage.

 

 

How Personalized Learning Models Can Meet the Needs of Students with Disabilities: Thrive Public Schools Case Study

By: Stephanie Lancet

The Center for Reinventing Public Education contracted with NCSECS to conduct case studies on school models and practices that effectively serve students with special needs. This brief highlights how a San Diego charter school network is using personalized learning to meet the needs of its students with disabilities. The other case study, How School Culture and Support Systems Can Improve Disciplinary Outcomes for Students with Disabilities, examines Mott Haven Academy Charter School in New York City and the impact of its positive school culture and behavior support systems on disciplinary outcomes.

About Thrive Public Schools and Its students

Thrive Public Schools is an independent charter public school network in San Diego founded with a unique vision: to build a school that adapts to each individual student and ignites passion for learning and self-confidence. The network enrolls higher percentages of students with disabilities and English language learners compared to the city and the state. Thrive students are in the top 1 percent nationally for reading growth, and in 6 out of 10 grade levels, its students are meeting or exceeding national math growth targets.

What makes personalized learning work well for Thrive’s students with special needs?

Key aspects of the charter school network’s model include the following:

  • Students with disabilities are fully included in general education. There is no discernable distinction between students receiving special education services and students who are not.
  • Teachers use technology-based education programs to supplement instruction and develop data-driven individualized support that benefits all students, particularly those with disabilities.
  • All teachers receive training about special education and learn effective strategies for meeting individual student needs. Special education teachers work alongside general education teachers and share responsibility for all students, not just those with disabilities.

NCSECS researchers conducted document reviews of both publicly available and privately shared resources; interviewed school administrators, teachers and staff, students, and families; and observed educators and students in action. The case study reflects school visits and data from Thrive’s three campuses in the fall of 2017.

How School Culture and Support Systems Can Improve Disciplinary Outcomes for Students with Disabilities: Mott Haven Academy Charter School Case Study

By: Stephanie Lancet

The Center for Reinventing Public Education contracted with NCSECS to conduct case studies on school models and practices that effectively serve students with special needs. This brief highlights how a New York City charter school is using a positive, inclusive environment and restorative discipline practices to improve outcomes for students with disabilities. The other case study, How Personalized Learning Models Can Meet the Needs of Students with Disabilities, highlights Thrive Public Schools in San Diego and its personalized learning model.

About Mott Haven Academy and Its Students

Mott Haven Academy is an independent charter public school in New York City serving pre-K through 6th grade. It is the first school in the nation designed explicitly to focus on the specific needs of children in the child welfare system; 49 percent of its students are in the foster care system or considered at risk of placement in foster care. Haven Academy provides wraparound services to its families through partnerships with several child welfare agencies and community-based organizations that provide housing, medical, and mental health supports.

What makes Haven Academy’s school culture and behavior supports work well for students with special needs?

Key aspects of the academy’s model include the following:

  • Admissions and enrollment processes proactively include and support student populations at risk of being marginalized, including students with disabilities.
  • Teachers and school leaders address behavior with methods tailored to individual students, which preemptively deter behavioral issues and incorporate opportunities for intentional reflection and growth.
  • The school culture and behavior supports are infused with social-emotional learning and address individual needs of students as shaped by their lives beyond the classroom.
  • Students learn in a restorative environment that is safe, stable, structured, and understanding, particularly benefiting students with disabilities by fostering full inclusion.

NCSECS researchers conducted document reviews of both publicly available and privately shared resources; interviewed school administrators, teachers and staff, students, and families; and observed educators and students in action. The case study reflects school information from the 2017-2018 school year.

New York City’s Brooklyn Laboratory Charter Schools: Supporting Students with Disabilities via a Robust Teacher Pipeline and Personalized Instructional Strategies

By: Stephanie Lancet

As part of its effort to share best practices with the special education community, The National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS) identified several public charter schools across the country as “Centers for Excellence” and is communicating how each school uniquely leverages its autonomy to benefit students with disabilities. Here is a spotlight on one of them.

Brooklyn Laboratory Charter Schools (Brooklyn LAB), a New York City charter network with four growing campuses, serves students from 6th to 9th grade. Aiming to personalize educational experiences and unlock all students’ potential and strengths, Brooklyn LAB leaders explicitly and intentionally integrate their commitment to serving students with diverse learning needs into the mission, vision, and practices of the school. While Brooklyn LAB offers an enrollment preference to students with disabilities (via its lottery weighting formula), it does not operate as a school solely dedicated to special education, instead striving to enroll a natural proportion of students with disabilities compared to its surrounding district. To achieve this, the school utilizes a dual approach in removing barriers that often stand in the way of the learning of all students, and particularly the learning of those that learn differently: a robust teacher pipeline and a combination of personalized instructional practices.

To effectively sustain its commitment to inclusion and its culture of individualization, Brooklyn LAB utilizes a system of teacher staffing structures that cultivates a supply of special education teachers capable of effectively implementing key school instructional and philosophical techniques. This intentional, internal pipeline improves the recruitment, induction, and retention of teachers by offering individuals the opportunity to progress through four talent-development levels. Made possible in part by this staffing structure, Brooklyn LAB provides a robust combination of evidence-based personalized instructional practices that intentionally meet the needs of students with diverse learning needs. The students receive whole class, small group, and one-on-one instruction, as well as additional support from technological learning platforms that individualize and monitor student progress.

The robust teacher pipeline and personalized instructional practices support the school’s commitment to inclusive success, as demonstrated by comparing student growth and performance on statewide ELA and Math exams to the NYC District and community District. To learn more about Brooklyn LAB and its approach to serving students with learning differences, read our full case study here.

In case you missed them, check out our profiles on Denver's Cole High School and Indianapolis’ Paramount School of Excellence.