Time to focus more on student achievement for students with disabilities?

Stacey Smith is an Oakland school district parent and volunteer who has served on the District GATE Advisory Committee, the school board’s Special Committee on School Based Management, and the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education. I invited her to contribute periodically to The Education Report, and she wanted me to emphasize that any topic she writes about — including the below piece —  is just what she finds worth sharing and does not reflect the view of any group. — Katy

Students with disabilities are currently among the lowest achieving students in the Oakland Unified School District. Between 2005 and 2010, the achievement gap between the general population and students with disabilities — who make up over 10 percent of the student population — has persisted or widened in English, math and science.

Less than half of the district’s special education students graduate even with an exemption from the California High School Exit Exam, which students with disabilities are not required to pass if they meet other diploma requirements.

The low graduation rate is even more sobering when you consider the dropout rate for students with disabilities. In 2009-10 Oakland reported a whopping 53.3 percent of students “exited” special education because they dropped out during or after ninth grade. Between 2006 and 2010 the majority of those special education students dropping out were African-American or Latino. It’s harder to track students with disabilities who are not in special education because of the limited reporting requirements.

OUSD’s new strategic plan highlights the disparities in student performance but I’ve heard many parents and guardians express concern that they do not see specifics about how the district plans to change outcomes. One parent I spoke to, who asked not to be identified, explained how frustrating it can be when high standards for achievement are not a main focus:

“I was disappointed with the expectations of the resource teacher and the general education teacher and the poor coordination between the two. I didn’t even realize what my son could achieve until two years later when he had a better teacher supporting him. And he was lucky — a lot of kids don’t have that chance. I think that’s what leads to kids getting into trouble and dropping out. This isn’t an uncommon experience.”

A new initiative by the U.S. Department of Education aimed at closing the nationwide achievement gap for students with disabilities may push the district and others to aggressively tackle student performance levels sooner rather than later.

Instead of just focusing on compliance, the Department of Education announced in May it will develop a new review process that considers critical indicators for students with disabilities, such as increased academic performance and graduation rates, to be measures of success. According to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, “We have to expect the very best from our students — and tell the truth about student performance — so that we can give all students the supports and services they need. The best way to do that is by focusing on results.”

In a move to improve outcomes, there is also a push at the federal level for greater responsibility for special education throughout the Department of Education, and not just within the walls of the Federal Office of Special Education. A similar push for broader accountability by the entire district for the success of students with disabilities is also underway here in Oakland.

One proposed federal step would push for all teachers to be prepared and trained to work with students with disabilities — not just special education teachers. Another is to ensure access to differentiated instruction for all students with disabilities. Yet another would strengthen planning for student transitioning from secondary schools to college or career.

Do you think these strategies could improve achievement and graduation levels for students with disabilities in Oakland? Is OUSD successfully using any of these strategies now? What do you think should be done to improve outcomes for these students?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Nextset

    Anyone have a breakdown of what the “disabilities” are??

    What is the most common? Is their ones more and less correlated with failure? Are we dealing with blindness? Psychotic disorder? Iron lung patients?? What?

    My experience has been with drug babies and fetal alcoholism, psychotic disorders, suicidal disorders requiring a full time aide. That kind of thing.

    I have seen success stories. The FAS student did very well and was transitioned into the military at 18. Mild case I suppose. He was getting all Fs till nearly 15 but turned it around and graduated. School did a good job. He was in service for 10 years and works healthcare as a tech now. Makes a great living and is married.

    What happened at 14 was he was placed in a foster home with great discipline. They sat on him and got things done. No more partying. Took him to a recruiter at 16 and he was involved in weekend trips to military bases and ships for motivation.

    He was given a calendar 2 years forward with his move out date circled. He was kept focused on the future throughout the 2 years to 18. He was also forced to cut his hair.

    Brave New World!

  • Special Education Parent

    Hurray for the beginning of this most important conversation on the pages of this blog! As the mother of a 2nd grader with what has been termed “mild autism”, I have most recently supported my son in partnership with a very competent teacher. At the same time, I have experienced how very incompetent “teachers” COMPLETELY dismissed my son’s capacity to learn how to read and write in the classroom, even expressing out loud the lowest of expectations for him. One of those teachers was absolutely incapable of naming what my child could and could not do in reading, writing, and math at May of the year in which she was his teacher. Showing a complete inability to accommodate for very predictable differences associated with autism, she ultimately chose to marginalize my son at the edge of the classroom while she taught the rest of the group. The details of this story are far too sad and involved to share over this blog spot.

    In the meantime, I supported my son as best as I could while I battled for a better placement. No one else checked that he was making progress despite my attempts to coordinate in a way consistent with a program specialist. I began to operate in that way when confronted with the staff’s complete unwillingness or inability to coordinate and collaborate. The teacher was left to determine the fate of her students on her own–no accountability for academic learning or on-going progress on individual goals from either the site-based staff or Special Ed staff. At the end, I could say with complete confidence, that everything my child learned during that terrible year, he learned from me.

    Now, we have somewhat made up for lost ground. My son is approaching grade level competency. Yet, I must say that there is no time to waste when children require well attuned teachers from which to learn. My son is a very bright child and I am well educated. He is steadily gaining the skills he needs with consistent daily support and creativity. Still, a parent that works outside the home cannot make up for the hours of learning that happen in the school day, especially when the availability of good classrooms and teachers is a year-by-year gamble. In saying this, I feel especially sad for those families who do not have the time or wherewithal to provide support when their children miss getting what they need in the hit-and-miss of Special Education in Oakland.

    It is important to note that Special Education happens in the General Education classroom, in specialized settings, in one-on-one encounters, and in so many other configurations. Also, the quality of what is available to children with Special Needs translates directly into what is available for those children who are not so identified. Good education can never happen if it doesn’t learn from and fully account for those children who can be most damaged from a standardized, one-size-fits-all education.

    Nothing less than a movement is needed for this district and community to begin to work for ALL children. The “all” in the strategic plan does not yet include children with Special Needs in all of their wonderful diversity. IEP’s don’t produce good outcomes in and of themselves. They are meaningless documents if not supported by a strong collective mission, good structures of support and accountability, competent professional development, and a responsive and joyful approach to education.

    When the needs of children with Special Needs figure centrally in every conversation and every plan in this district, I will finally be able to say that the work of educating all children has begun. This includes consistently hearing from and about school sites that place them at the center of their vision, mission, and goals. There are “portables” of the mind for students with disabilities at many school sites, even when the children are not learning in portables. And, there are portables, such as many at the Burbank Preschool Center and other sites, where robust learning and growing are taking place.

    Let’s dive into the honest and sustained conversations that we need to bring about positive changes for ALL children, including children with Special Needs.

  • Debora

    Nextset: For some of the students in my daughter’s class they were termed “twice exceptional” that is they were gifted AND they were on the autism spectrum, had an auditory processing disorder or had dysgraphia and were part of the gifted students and the students with disabilities. Generally these students faired better than disability only students of whom teachers expected little.

    Parents advocating makes a world of difference; however I have seen parents in Oakland Unified spend as much as 10- 15 hours per week on the bureaucracy, (teacher meetings, principal meetings, Individualized Education Plan meetings, requests for accommodations, follow up when IEP agreements are not being upheld and meetings with specialists). I have seen my neighbors who were born with fetal alcohol syndrome and adopted by a single working mom go three years of middle school without their IEP fulfilled and leaving in the eighth grade without the middle school ever updating the IEP. When the mom took her kids out of the Oakland school system and put them in other school (in which they achieved almost at grade level when they had teachers who were supportive and kept the guidelines of the IEP in their planner, the students thrived.) Unfortunately, the mom could no longer get to her job and keep her kids in the other schools.

    As a society, we should all be concerned because these students have the capability of working and contributing to society – or not. A lot of it is up to the district being willing to uphold the law and for parents to advocate for their children or when that is not possible someone within the district must act on behalf of the student.

  • OUSD Special Educator

    I agree that we need many more competent teachers in our Special Education classrooms that believe in the amazing capabilities of students with disabilities. That said, however, we can’t ignore the conditions most of our Special Education teachers are working under that make it close to impossible to do the job well.

    In my time teaching in Oakland, I have either been placed at multiple campuses or had no Instructional Assistant to support my program. It is very difficult to be a resource to a school community or be truly present to collaborate with teachers and support students when you are serving multiple schools. It is equally difficult to be a fully present teacher when you are doing a job that requires you to be multiple places at once but you are not provided the proper support to accomplish that task. Without an IA this year, I am unable to hold IEP meetings during the school day or provide Push in and Pull out at times that are most appropriate for all my students.

    At some point, conditions dictate quality. I can only be the martyr that stay at school until 6:00 and then works at home until midnight every night planning individualized instruction and writing IEPs in my “free time” for so long. Either the quality of my instruction is going to suffer or my mental health will. Should I even continue teaching in Oakland, even though I believe the students in OUSD need quality and committed teachers like me more than most students? It’s a question I, unfortunately, ask myself every day. If we are serious about providing quality support to our Special Education students in Oakland we must start advocating for the conditions of their teachers!!

  • makeitgoaway

    I commend Special Ed parent for being an advocate for her child. Keep fighting!

    I love to mainstream special Ed student’s in my AP classes as I believe they are very capable with accommodations, and woefully underestimated. What can be worse than giving up on a student? Give them notes, tailor the assignments, give extended test time, and secure testing conditions, and show them you care and you will get results, and do some real teaching. Anyone can teach the top kids.

  • anon

    Thank you Katy for bringing this very important topic to light! This is something I grow more and more upset with every single day as a high school special education teacher. I am fully committed to students with IEP’s and it is my job along with others within the school to ensure that this special population thrives and succeeds.

    Having that said, conditions can be extremely hard. When I took the job three years ago I was in the parking lot of the school (only teacher out there) with no IA and 25 students. I was expected to plan individualized lessons for 4 different prep. periods (science, math, english and math) with no curriculum provided. When we talk about bringing in more qualified teachers to teach special education, I agree. But, I also agree that conditions MUST change. I, along with many other teachers, have worked endless amounts of hours to try to do the best possible job with this population of students.

    I get angry when I think that these are the most neediest children and yet we are not serving them as well as we should be.

    Holding high expectations are a given; there is no excuse for students with disabilities not achieving at a high level. I am a firm believer in that.

    Would love to continue this conversation in terms of recommendations for educational policy. I have my own ideas, but would love to also hear others.

    The first thing that comes to my mind for Oakland is an increase in services for students.
    1. Every single classroom should have an IA-that is a starting point.
    2. Teachers should be accountable for holding their IEP meetings following compliance (this does not happen regularly).
    3. Active collaboration between SPED teachers and general education teachers is KEY. I would also add in administration here especially when it comes to advocating for students and behavior plans.

    I continue to work so my kids can achieve not only their IEP goals but work on grade level standards. It can be the MOST challenging and frustrating job and also the most heartbreaking…but this population of students deserves it.

  • Nextset

    In the case of the success story I mentioned earlier, the problem everybody had in dealing with this kid was discipline. He was raised by an alcoholic IV drug using mother and a degenerate father. The courts took all the children away – they had 6 I believe. The kids were scattered to various foster homes. The boy was used to getting up, eating and going to bed whenever and was rather a truant. Keeping him in at night wasn’t a given at first. He was believed to be mildly FAS, he’d had surgical correction of minor deformities as a small child and treatments for other problems around puberty.

    There was no talk of college.

    The goal of the placement was to get him a high school diploma. Once that was made possible – after maybe a year of work between age 15 & 16 – the next thing to do is figure what would become of him at 18, he couldn’t stay in the foster home beyond that. The military was an obvious solution but it wasn’t clear he would be completely suitable. He was placed with a recruiter and by age 18 he was suitable – he passed the IQ testing and had the required HSD. He was not a druggie or drunk like his bio Mom – but we all knew he had risk factors for that and he was seriously coached about it (not indulging). He was trained to shoot up Mom from the time he was 9 or so – we figured he was a natural for medical services. Emotional distance, willingness to inflict pain, ability to manage people passing out and bleeding, enthusiasm for a crisis, he had assets normal kids didn’t.

    He was in service for 10 years – was in the gulf wars – I think because of his history he had a very hard edge on him that gave him an advantage in the service. Now last I heard he’s grown up and makes a spendid living in healthcare as a Tech (very good money there and no college required) – especially under the circumstances. He could have been dead. Siblings had other placements and didn’t do so well. The school worked with the foster parents and the military recruiter to get him caught up from a lifetime of neglect. I worked on some but not all of the legal cases – he had to testify against his parents in a number of cases and hearings. They’re both dead now, the rehabs didn’t work.

    No one would sign for a (minor’s) driver’s license so when he turned 18 and before leaving I helped him get a permit and taught him how to drive. We could have both been killed. Not a good driver at all. This was decades ago. He only got a licens in his mid 20s and was stuck with many years of new driver surcharge – 100% I believe, because he’d not taken a license with the middle class at age 16. That cost him thousands a year extra for full coverage for some time.

    If he’d been forced into a college prep situation he’d have probably dropped out school by 16 and turned to drugs & dealing. He was placed in a structured program and given a series of “victories” calculated to keep him working where success was expected. Survey classes that satisfied the graduation requirements. The discipline part was a bit dicey but we got that done also. It seems to me that involved a skydiving experience. No I didn’t go. Carrots and Sticks were used. If he came to heel he got goodies none of the other foster kids got. Including driving the car. The recruiter was very important for motivation, discipline and field trips.

    Whatever it took. Everybody waved him goodbye at the military bus and he was told his room was gone. There was no turning back. He never again lived as a guest in anyone’s home. But he did live around the world. There were postcards. He was mixed race, but not black.

    This is what I’d like to see more of at the public schools. Less pats on the back and more showing of lifeboats. The stats are poor for the OUSD black kids – but there are a lot of lifeboats if kids don’t get away with doing everything their way.

    There is a lot public schooling can do with the at risk population. It all starts with not letting the inmates run the asylum, setting realistic goals, and working what strong suits an academically inferior student does have.

    Just save us from white liberals. They can’t get anyone out of the comfort zone.

    Brave New World.

  • Stacey Smith

    To give you a fuller profile of students with disabilities really involves another blog post but just to put it into some perspective I’ll give you the “short” version. According to my handy “Special Education Rights and Responsibilities Handbook” by the Community Alliance for Special Education in SF (www.caseadvocacy.org) students in Special Education qualify under one of many categories including visual impairment, deaf or hearing impairment, deaf-blind, severe orthopedic impairment, language or speech disorder, other health impairment (think chronic or acute health problems, or fetal alcohol syndrome, ADD, Tourette’s, bipolar, etc.), autism/autistic-like behaviors, mental retardation, serious emotional disturbance, specific learning disability, traumatic brain injury and multiple disabilities. Keep in mind that many students may have multiple disabilities but for the purposes of qualifying only check one official “box”. And some students have disabilities and are not in Special Education but have something called a 504 Plan which provides support. There are also those who may or may not be identified but because they are not in Special Education or 504 it is unlikely they have been included in OUSD’s data.

    The CA Dept. of Education report I found for OUSD for 2010-11 shows that the two top categories of Special Education students — who combined account for about 60%+ of OUSD’s Special Education students that year — are learning disabled (who I am told make up the majority of Special Education students nationwide) followed by speech/language impaired.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Nextset says: “Just save us from white liberals. ”

    So is it some kind of conspiracy that schools hire white liberals? Are they keeping others out of these jobs? (Not being sarcastic, want to be clear on what you are saying).

    Also, what about those parts of the country with very few liberals of any color — why are their schools not any better than ours?

  • Sue

    I want to speak up for the much-maligned “white liberal” here. (I think I’m qualified, since Nextset used to regularly label me one when I used to post regularly on this blog.)

    I’m the parent of a college sophomore (CSUEB, GPA 3.67), who also happens to have an autism diagnosis, and graduated from Skyline High in 2010.

    The SPED teachers and parents who’ve posted above are all heroes to me. Some of the teachers may have taught my son, but that doesn’t matter to my opinion of all of them – HEROES.

    We had teachers and staff tell us things about our son’s education rights in the early years of his schooling, which could have cost them their jobs if the district had known the information was being shared. We had district administration lie to our faces in IEP meetings about what services would or could be provided in a general education classroom. (Anyone here need to know that your special-needs kid *can* have a one-on-one aide in the general ed classroom if it’s needed for her/him – truth, but we were once told our boy could only have an aide if he were in a special day class.)

    We turned to other parents, advocacy groups, and Ms. Vivian Lura, who was the director of programs for exceptional students way back then. She was a liberal educator, like those teachers who’d whispered secrets to help get our son the services he needed. Because of Ms. Lura, OUSD had the lowest number of lawsuits for SPED services in the state. If a family fought through the levels of district bureaucracy all the way to her office, she provided the needed services, so families didn’t have to go to court. It cost her her job when then-superintendent Dennis Chaconas was trying to cut costs and save his own job before the state takeover of the district. The next two people Ms. Lura’s position were both conservatives, and A) weak, then B) a horrible nightmare.

    Our family learned to read the state education laws for ourselves, and we walked into each and every meeting sounding like we’d just come from a lawyer’s office – recording every meeting after properly notifying the district of our intention to do so, correctly using acronyms like FAPE and LRE, talking about “needs” and what was “necessary instead of what was “best” for our son.

    I honestly can’t tell you how many other families shared our tips with and gave copies of our son’s IEP’s to, so they could get their child the services they needed, which we’d gotten for our son. We’d lost count by the time he was in middle school.

    So, thanks to the liberal citizens who advocated and lobbied for Special Education services, and the liberal legislators who wrote and passed those education laws, and the liberal teachers and staff who helped us learn about those laws and our son’s education rights.

    Thank you! My son, and many, many others like him, have the opportunity to go to school, get a real education appropriate to their needs and abilities, and have a full meaningful life. Without the efforts of those liberals, he wouldn’t be where he is today (succeeding in college!), because we wouldn’t have had the tools to win our fights to get him through public school. Private schools were too expensive for us to afford, and homeschooling wasn’t adequate to meet his needs. Only the liberal requirement that the state provide FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) to every student got him where he is.

    Save us from conservatives (of any color) who’d deny children the opportunity for an education, because it costs too much to educate those children who are not typical students fitting into the one-size-fits-most classroom. And especially, save us from the conservative teachers who can only teach those one-size-fits-most students.

  • Nextset

    Hmmm.. You seem to equate Conservative Values with not giving you everything you want when you want it and at any cost to other people… Maybe you are onto something!

    I don’t think I’ve opined on the existing framework of special ed laws. Or perhaps I have said that there should be a limit or a budget beyond which the taxpayers should not have to lavish money on some people. I am not readily familiar with all the Special Ed provisions. It doesn’t surprise me that a large urban district would break every rule. Nothing conservative about that. Liberals will lie cheat and steal all the time safe in the conviction that they are doing it for a higher good and rules don’t apply to them anyway.

    Conservatives don’t do that.

    Sue, you are full of it. But it’s great to hear from you. Once in awhile we can agree. Often we don’t.

    I don’t trust the large districts such as LAUSD and OUSD to even mean well.

    Speaking of which, there was a news report that a school employee (teacher, nurse??) was standing over a child having an acute asthma attack refusing to allow use of a rescue inhaler because there wasn’t a signed permission slip handy from the parent for the inhaler.

    Here’s a report:


    Educrats would kill a child rather than not do what they want their way. And it would have been a murder case if that child had died. As it is she should have been arrested and booked for felony child endangerment.

    So what do you think they’d do to your poor Special Ed Child? Good thing you were there to protect your kid.

    But then again – jails are known to remove and withhold meds from medically fragile arrestees too. There is a lot in common with jails and schools I suppose. Especially in lower class populations.

    Brave New World.

    And we need to coach our kids in how to survive it.

  • Sue

    Another drive-by post, and then I’m out of here…

    Nextset said: “Hmmm.. You seem to equate Conservative Values with not giving you everything you want when you want it and at any cost to other people… Maybe you are onto something!”

    Nope, that is your equivalency. I equated conservative values with, “I got mine, now nobody else gets anything if I can keep it from them.”

    And I equate liberal values with, “I got a chance, and I ran with it. Now I want to give the next person a chance, and I hope they’ll choose to run with it too.”

    And with this extremely off-topic screed, I’m outta here.

  • Nextset

    Sue: I suppose you have a list of American Universities built and operated by Socialists/Communists/Liberal types? As opposed to the Universities, hospitals and such built by Conservatives/Capitalists? Or anything else done for society at large constructed and operated with leftist $$?

    Full of it.

    Conservatives have donated funds for capital improvement and setup for every kind of public works. Socialists don’t. They believe in government money raised at the point of a gun used to do things to keep them in power. And don’t count on free elections either. SF hasn’t had one in awhile and Chicago not in memory.

    You see, money you earned by running a business and meeting payroll over the years you take seriously. It’s built up slowly over the generations. A plan develops for after you’re gone. Money by speculation and ripoff you don’t. Easy come, easy go. CA and the USA was built on industrialists. They were not liberals. Now entertainers and speculators – Hollywood and so forth…

    Your attitude towards money is very familiar.. Berkeley perhaps??

  • Harold

    @Nextset – you have some ancient biases. Berkeley, is not the liberal, anti-war, haven it was just 10-15 years ago.

    I just read that North Dakota is thinking of getting rid of Property Tax. Maybe that would be a great place for you to enjoy the “Brave New World”?

  • Stacey Smith

    I want to say how grateful I am for so many thoughtful responses. I was wondering if there were others — especially teachers on the front lines — who had more to say about how to improve acheivement for students with disabilities. Or principals, who are responsible for these students at their sites. Anyone else want to brag on some success or share their thoughts on how to improve outcomes?

  • Peach

    As a parent whose disabled son went through OUSD, I want to add my voice to those who appreciate the dedicated and talented teachers who taught him. Too often his teachers were long term subs, pre interns and interns who had no clue and no support. However, there were those teachers, speech therapists, and adaptive PE teachers whose excellent instruction resulted in lifelong learning.

    Stacey, here are a few suggestions for improvement –
    – including special education teachers in professional development and site curriculum meetings with other educators, as appropriate; everyone is concerned with student socialization, language and mathematical development, and intellectual progress
    – educate principals about the importance of offering all students the core curriculum, unlike our experience back East, only a few wonderful principals ensure that students in Special Day Classes participate in student activities, music, art, science, libraries, computer instruction, etc.
    – now that Williams requires that all students have instructional materials, leadership should be responsible for seeing that special education classes and students have appropriate access to/use of those materials like science labs, art materials, accessible textbooks and adjunct materials
    – the district should cease and desist its longstanding traditions of capriciously pushing out veteran special ed teachers and managers and of non- reelecting credentialed non tenured teachers
    – PEC can become up-to-date on curriculum and materials; OUSD continues to be 25 to 30 years out of date in the use of accommodations from large print books to assistive technology (and many of these are FREE from the state)
    – address issues of attendance, some of which are caused by lack of bus service, safety issues resulting from lack of teachers and aides, long waits for a classroom seat, and inadequate communication with parents
    – follow the spirit and letter of the law so that students who enter OUSD are given appropriate placement and services ASAP, including helping schools obtain records from previous schools
    – treat students, families, and educators with respect

  • Oakland Teacher

    The word on the street today is that all of the Program Specialists at Programs for Exceptional Children have been “consolidated,” meaning they no longer have jobs after June 30.

    I am wondering how that will affect special education student achievement. The program specialists are the ones who make sure that special education teachers are following policy, and the ones who deal with the more complex kids/families. It sounds like all the chopping is being done to make up some of the budget issues previously posted on this blog.

    Next year should be extra chaotic: everyone down there will be new, and the entire department reorganized.

  • anon

    I just read the budget recommendation for Special Education…in addition to cutting Program Specialists and hiring 9 more in the fall, they will increase SDC caseloads and make sure resource specialists have 28 on their case load.

    I am an SDC teacher and feel the maximum I can serve well is 15. That year I had 25 I was not serving kids well…

    Be interested to see how this plays out come fall.

  • Katy Murphy

    Is that special ed budget rec posted online somewhere? Someone just forwarded me a hard copy, and I’d like to post a link.

  • Katy Murphy

    The district’s plan, according to OEA President Betty Olson-Jones, is to cut all 16 program specialist positions and then, after the opening of school, to fill nine of them. All would need to reapply for the job (which may have a different job description, a la Acceleration TSA), or be placed in another position in OUSD if they are permanent employees, according to district spokesman Troy Flint.

    I’m still gathering more details, as tonight was the first I’d heard of this. (I think this development came yesterday — at least, that’s when the special ed cost-cutting memo cited by anon — I think — was dated.)

  • Turanga_teach

    Wow, that’s a dumb idea. And, as a longtime special education teacher in this district, I know from dumb ideas.

    The program specialists are TSAs, and have been so for as long as I can remember. All are credentialed special education teachers. The chaos of giving these folks either their jobs back or other classroom jobs AFTER the school year begins is difficult to imagine–it means that whatever classroom receives them (mind you, whatever special education classroom, which in and of itself means that the assignment is already extremely specific and challenging) will be headed by someone who wasn’t necessarily expecting and preparing for the assignment. I understand that sometimes, we need to do this. But to build it in as a feature-not-a-bug is honestly beyond my understanding.

    Not to mention the reality that some of the most crucial work done by Program Specialists is done in the weeks leading up to the school year–getting new hires up to speed, finalizing placements, ensuring that IEPS reach the sites where the children are taught…

    Please, someone tell me this isn’t the plan.

  • sp. ed. teacher

    Read through the comments hoping someone would bring up these new current shenanigans from the district. Glad someone did. I am so sad about it. My motto for OUSD this year has been, “well, I suppose I should be grateful.” “They’re closing my school, but I have a job somewhere else.” “This training is not very good, but at least it’s a training.” “I got textbooks a month late, but at least I got textbooks.” But there’s not even anything I can think of to be sarcastically grateful about. “At least when I don’t know how to fill in this paperwork correctly, it won’t totally be my fault because there won’t be anyone there to ask.” “At least when my previously overbooked program specialist misses an important meeting, I know there’s probably 2 good reasons for it, not just one.” “At least when I’m out sick, I know that there won’t be a crappy sub in my classroom– there just won’t be a sub.” “At least if I have too many students in my classroom, I know it’s not because they can’t find enough teachers for all these important wonderful kids, but it’s because they aren’t looking.” I suppose I should be grateful.

  • Peach


    It’s time to contact advocacy groups and lawyers. In the name of cost cutting, the already overburdened PEC system is being dismantled. There are probably multiple agendas, including bringing in a new director who may not have special education or CA credentials or experience.

    Special ed is ripe for even more privatization – boxed programs, special credentialing streams, hiring teachers and staff through private organizations, multiple consultancies, and purchasing of prepackaged assessments and instructional materials.

    Follow the money since many of the contracts probably have been signed and Board approved already.

    There are many adults with disabilities who have comfortable trust funds from legal settlements from OUSD as a result of years of denial of educational services. The district is setting itself up for yet another chaotic school year for its most vulnerable students, so parents have legal options when following procedures and negotiations don’t work.

    Hmm, a good proportion of our students in special ed programs are African American males. Is this how one addresses their intellectual and academic needs?

    May all of the special educators continue their good work in the midst of all the wrong headed, heartless, and illegal maneuverings. Our children and families depend on you.

  • Inga

    What a mixed bag of emotions to be feeling on the last day of school – deep satisfaction and gratitude towards the amazing team of Special Ed teachers and staff that have supported my son through 2nd and 3rd grade, when he entered Special Ed in OUSD; followed by disgust towards a school district that does not value ALL its students. I have been fortunate that my son has received beneficial services without my having to fight tooth and nail for them. He did not receive every support that I initially asked for, but over time appropriate changes and additions have been made to his IEP as a result of true collaboration. I feel despondent thinking of those who have had a harder time getting the support their child needs and fearful of a future where I may have to fight for basic rights for my child (FAPE), thereby spreading myself even thinner than I already do trying to manage and provide for ALL the needs of my two children. In addition to my 3rd grader, I also have a 2 1/2 year old getting ready to enter Special Ed when he turns three. How scary it is to think about what challenges lie ahead for us, despite all the wonderful, well-intentioned Special Ed teachers out there – how can they help us when they either can’t keep their own jobs or are so overburdened that they can’t provide the support that they know is necessary for these students?

  • Special Education Parent

    @ Peach. I absolutely agree. The wheels are quickly in motion already. This will be an intense struggle for those of us who believe in public special education and in the great potential of our children. To everyone who has responded as a member of this community within this post: Please keep reading and get connected and organized as much as you can.

    They are dismantling structures that were already weak at a time of increased need. They are overloading Special Education teachers and classrooms to the breaking point.

    If OUSD leadership doesn’t have the money for the basics that our children deserve, then they should be stating publicly that this is a disaster and that they don’t have the heart to do it. This is a moment for bold leadership. Administrators and elected leaders should put themselves on the line with integrity for this population of children that has been shockingly under-served and marginalized within our school district.

    Jumping for life boats will only deepen the crisis. Let’s band together in this moment to fight these cuts and everything that can be destroyed as a result.

    I write this with deep gratitude for all those who believe in our children and support them in the midst of all this. Thanks for loving them and what they bring.

  • Special Education Parent

    Katy: We need solid public information and a comprehensive article about what these cuts will mean for our children. Is that in the works?

    This is happening very quickly. Information is key to participate effectively in this moment.

    Thanks a lot for all that you do.

  • Peach

    May I add a word of thanks to the aides, instructional assistants,speech therapists, aides, and nurses who also do their very best for our students. They are indispensible members of the educational team.

  • http://www.natedaviscopywriter.com Nate Davis

    As I understand it, the program specialists are the ones that do all the administrative detail work to ensure that these needy students get the best they can from the system. So hearing that the district is cutting these positions sounds disastrous and short-sighted. I’ll be writing an email to Superintendent Tony Smith as soon as I’m done here.

  • Anon

    From: OUSD SpecEd CAC [mailto:cacoakland@gmail.com]
    Sent: Friday, June 15, 2012 9:55 AM
    To: OUSD SpecEd CAC
    Subject: Dramatic Cuts and Serious Risks to Children with Special Needs in OUSD

    Dear Members of the OUSD Special Education Community:

    Programs for Exceptional Children has been instructed by OUSD administration to cut 4.3 million from its budget with dramatic staffing reductions, increase in class sizes, and the certainty that the 2012-2013 school year will begin without the coordination to address placement and other beginning of the year issues. This is largely due to the decision to reduce Program Specialists from 16 to 9 and to require that all Program Specialists re-apply for their positions in the Fall. Additionally, the retirement of Sharon Casanares as PEC Director and the transition to new leadership will seriously complicate this already dire scenario. Please see the notice at the foot of this e-mail that was sent by the Oakland Unified Teachers Association (Oakland OEA).

    Our community has spoken over the years about the serious lack of classroom and one-on-one aides and about the need for more effective support for them. Yet, OUSD will not fill any aide or teacher vacancies as part of the budget cuts that have been proposed. At our last CAC meeting parents told horror stories about the impact to their children of not having aides for months at a time even when their IEP’s were largely dependent on the support of an aide. These situations will surely worsen at the same time as classroom size and resource specialist caseloads increase.

    These cuts occur while OUSD administration is allegedly reviewing Special Education programs to assess needs and improve quality. It is difficult to see how these dramatic cuts serve any attempt to improve program quality and to support the development of our children. No description of system and service improvements that will benefit our children has been provided.

    For more details about the proposed cuts and the reorganization proposal, click here. See below for the Oakland Education Association call to action.

    Here is a list of contacts that you can use to voice your opinion about this proposal:
    District 1: jody.london@ousd.k12.ca.us
    District 2: david.kakishiba@ousd.k12.ca.us
    District 3: jumoke.hodge@ousd.k12.ca.us
    District 4: gary.yee@ousd.k12.ca.us
    District 5: noel.gallo@ousd.k12.ca.us
    District 6: christopher.dobbins@ousd.k12.ca.us
    District 7: Alice.Spearman@ousd.k12.ca.us
    Superintendent Smith: tony.smith@ousd.k12.ca.us
    Deputy Superintendent Santos: maria.santos1@ousd.k12.ca.us

    If you are unsure which district you live in — you can write all the school board members, or you can look on this map.

    You can also contact Superintendent Smith’s office directly by calling (510) 879-8200.

    The CAC leadership will be following this closely and we will send additional details very soon. We must mobilize to support the needs of Children with Special Needs in OUSD. Please watch your inbox!

  • Katy Murphy

    I’m working on a story about this — please email me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com if you’d like to share your perspective.

  • Emmy Fearn

    Anyone who wants to find detailed demographic info on OUSD special ed students can go to http://data1.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/, and choose special education under “Subjects”. You’ll find that top categories of students in OUSD special ed for 2010-11 (latest data available) are learning disabilities at 36.5%, speech/language impairment at 26.0%, developmental disability (aka MR) 11.4%, autism 7.9%, emotional disorder 7.8%.

    BTW–Per DataQuest (2010-2011) 10.7% of OUSD students are students with disabilities. 47.0% of OUSD students with disabilities are African-American, but only 30.6% of all OUSD students are African-American. So, African-American students are disproportionately students with disabilities. DataQuest doesn’t provide spec ed numbers by gender (interesting), but looking at OUSD STAR results, twice as many boys as girls were tested using the CMA, California Modified Assessment for students with disabilities, so likely that 2/3 of OUSD students with disabilities are boys.

  • J.R.

    I think you need to take a really hard look at the special ed program implementation itself. As a parent of an autistic child, I wonder about some children in special ed, and whether or not they should even be there. Strange things happen when there is money to be made.






    I hope people really study this issue in depth.

  • J.R.

    More material to look at:



    The most interesting commonality I have found is addressed by this quote “It is no coincidence that the overwhelming majority of the growth in special education has taken place in the specific learning disability category, which is both among the most subjective disabilities to diagnose and among the cheapest to serve.”

  • Anon

    Katy, have you spoken to parents on the CAC for your article?

  • Katy Murphy

    Yep, I have. If there’s something you’d like to add, though, I’m all ears.

  • @sumpepandwong

    My daughter for the most part has been lucky by having a phenomenal preschool teacher and kinder teacher (SLPs, OTs, PTs) while in OUSD special education. I know, however, that it’s just a matter of time before her luck runs out. I decided not long ago that education for my daughter with special needs and her younger “typical” sister is about empowerment. I want them to go to school each day feeling empowered – To use their voice, have it be heard, cultivate their curiosity, be independent and self-directed learners all within an inclusive school and classroom environment. I believe my daughters are equals. While each have their own unique needs, I have high expectations of both and give them the respect and love that they deserve. Unfortunately, OUSD’s vision for special education is to disempower children with special needs, their families, and advocates (teachers, OTs, SLPs AND program specialists). These budget cuts disproportionately effects children with special needs vs. their general ed peers. Why? The budget cuts are just the tip of the iceberg. Discrimination and bigotry run rampant and no amount of money can fix that problem. Time for OUSD administration and school board to take a hard look in the mirror and ask themselves to make a change. Not a policy change but a change in viewing children with special needs as equals. Only then can the healing and good work begin for ALL students.

  • @sumpepandwong

    Oh and I’m a CAC parent. 😉