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An Oakland Unified parent’s wish list for 2013

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. What she writes about does not reflect the view of any group.

I know it’s late, but I was just at the check-out counter reading magazine covers still touting magical resolutions that would change us for the better in 2013. I was musing about what I would list for OUSD to tackle in 2013 that would benefit students with disabilities. My partial list, in no order:

1. Identify and publicly celebrate those achieving positive results for these students. There are a lot of success stories out there – programs and individual educators and administrators who are helping students to reach their full potential. It continues to surprise me how infrequently OUSD highlights these achievements and we only hear about the same few examples. C’mon, OUSD – brag a bit!

2. Stop withholding resources from special education by limiting funds and cutting supports. In 2012 it was the budget cuts, avoidable staffing shortages and impossible caseloads for front-line resource specialists. In 2013 there’s more. OUSD wants to increase the ratio of students per aide in high-need classes. Continue Reading

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Expecting more of 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. What she writes about does not reflect the view of any group.

“State should expect more of students with disabilities, say federal officials”

That’s the headline from a front-page San Francisco Chronicle story about how California schools have lowered academic expectations for special education students statewide by over-using the simplified California Modified Assessment (CMA) rather than using the regular California Standard Tests (CST).

The CMAs and CSTs are two standardized tests California students in grades 3-11 take annually. The U.S. Department of Education has expressed concern that California uses the CMAs more than twice as often as recommended by federal guidelines. According to the feds, the rate of special education students taking the CMAs should be 2 percent of the total student population and only 20 percent of the special education population.

How is OUSD doing? In 2011-12, Oakland reported that 7 percent of the district’s population enrolled in grades 3-11 took the CMAs for English Language Arts (ELA), more than three times the expected rate.

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Small beginnings, big difference

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. What she writes about does not reflect the view of any group.

Burbank Preschool fanWhen I walked into the room I was struck by the sunlight pouring in across a classroom of tiny tables and chairs.

The woman next to me was immediately struck by a small body hurdling itself at her knees for a hug.

Christie Anderson, director of the Burbank Preschool Center, paused mid-sentence to disentangle and chat with the child (and a few others) before we continued our tour.

Moving from classroom to classroom I felt like this could be any preschool in Oakland. Parents were dropping off little ones. Teachers and aides were giving multi-lingual direction to students (Burbank families speak over 15 languages). The reading nook, the imagination corner, and the riot of colors and activities tempted me to just get right onto the floor and start playing. The children were totally engaged.

I did notice in one room a child was using an electronic board with pictures that the child would touch to communicate instead of using words. In another room a wheelchair was pushed up to the snack table with the other chairs. And in one classroom there was a nurse, always, because the students have such severe health impairments that there must be medical support available at all times.

This is what special education preschool looks like. Continue Reading

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Oakland’s special education reorganization: a parent’s critique

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; any topic she writes about — including the below piece – does not reflect the view of any group. — Katy

By now you may know that the Oakland school board voted to reinstate $1.75 million in cuts it was asked to approve on June 27. The program specialists still have their jobs, and the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education was assured that class sizes and caseloads would not increase and that vacant positions would be filled for 2012-13.

In a press release vetted by high-level special education, finance, and Leadership, Curriculum and Instruction staff that came out late the day before the board meeting, OUSD described the reorganization and the position cuts as something very different than the Sharon Casanares memo I blogged about.

The press release focused on program specialist cuts and additional cuts that would occur and also contained misrepresentations about the program. It said teachers and staff were “versed in the law, theories of learning and disabilities” but not in academic areas, so OUSD had to move students into general education classrooms. This, while so many veteran special education teachers hold general education and special education degrees. This, when the district refuses to accept general education credentialed teachers into their special education credentialing program despite widespread community support for the idea.

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An Oakland parent on OUSD’s special education proposal

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; any topic she writes about — including the below piece – does not reflect the view of any group. — Katy

I’m trying to understand the June 12 memo from outgoing Special Education Director Sharon Casanares to Oakland school district program specialists that eliminates their jobs as of June 29 and lays out over $4 million dollars of staffing and program cuts for special education in Oakland — cuts that may severely impact the support special education teachers and over 5,000 special education students receive.

According to the memo, personnel costs make up the bulk of the department’s budget so the majority of reductions are in that area. The number one criterion used to make cuts was to “make changes that will have the least impact on students in classrooms.” Substantial cuts are proposed in several key areas: Continue Reading

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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:

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