Correctional Institute programs help female inmates gain education …

On Tuesday, August 8, 2017, during the regularly scheduled Board of County Commissioner’s meeting, Karen Worthey-Osborne Program Director for the Intensive Outpatient Program, presented an overview of the Hernando Correctional Institution’s (Hernando CI) Programs. The Hernando CI is a prison that houses around 400 female inmates and is located on Spring Hill Drive, in Brooksville.

On August 8 Osborne said the programs are created to help prepare women for the world that awaits them once they are released. “Our task is to prepare them for the challenges they are going to be faced with upon release. Some of the obstacles are housing, employment and regaining trust from potential employers, future neighbors, family members and the community at large,” Osborne said.

One program at Hernando CI is the Faith and Character Program. Ladies within the program are expected to complete various courses including Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, House of Healing: a prisoner’s guide to inner power and freedom and Life Mapping: an individualized plan for re-entry into society.

Inmates are provided an opportunity to continue their education through the Life Christian University where the ladies can receive their general education degree (GED), an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree and even a master’s degree.

In 2016, five inmates received their bachelor’s degree, three received master’s degrees in Theology while 16 attained their GED.

The Faith and Character Program also had a total of 89 graduates in the year 2016 alone.

During the meeting on Aug. 8, Osborne said that it is critical for the female inmates to begin the process of preparing for the future. “We want them to start thinking about, ‘what are you going to do when you get out.’ That is a critical part,” Osborne said.

According to the National Institute of Justice over half of prisoners released to the public were likely to be arrested within the first year of release. Osborne said that these women need support to grow and ensure that they will not be repeat offenders.

“If they don’t have the education or skills it is very likely they will go back to some criminal behavior they are familiar with,” Osborne said. Commissioner John Allocco thanked Osborne for her work. “We all hope for low recidivism (reoffending) rates, that is the goal here. I want to applaud you for actually doing something about this and helping these women,” Allocco said.

In her closing statement, Osborne read aloud the philosophy the inmates recite daily:

“First let us know these things, that our lives matter because we are born with potential. There are people who love us and who need our love. We are not victims of circumstance because every person can be greater in their heart and mind than any circumstance. To be free we must master our own habits because they have us held hostage in fear and anger and lead us to do desperate things and commit thoughtless harm. We can be a part of something greater than ourselves. Let us do these things, humble ourselves to learning out of respect for our own potential and out of respect for those who teach us. Take courage against our fears and be steady in our effort so that what is waiting in us to grow can become strong and beautiful. Extend our arms to others and draw strength from each other. For the one who falls low can bring us all down, unless we help her rise. The one who rises high can take us all higher if we strive together.”

Report Examines State Funding Cuts – Inside Higher Ed

A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities compares state spending on two- and four-year public colleges and universities over a decade, finding funding at the end of the 2017 academic year was nearly $9 billion below its 2008 level, after adjusting for inflation.

On a per student basis, 44 of 49 states analyzed spent less in 2017 than in 2008, found the report, released today. The average state spent $1,448, or 16 percent, less per student.

Falling state spending has consequences, according to the center, a research and policy think tank focused on budget and tax policies that help low-income people. Today’s report draws heavily on data from two other well-known annual reports on higher education finance, the Grapevine survey and the State Higher Education Finance report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers association.

“State spending on higher education is important because state and local governments provide just over half of the money that public colleges use for educational purposes,” said Michael Mitchell, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and one of the report’s authors. “If that amount goes down, public institutions generally have to raise more funds through tuition, they have to cut their own campus budgets, or some combination of those two things.”

Since 2008, average annual published tuition at four-year public institutions has increased by $2,484, or 35 percent.

The report argues that families have had a difficult time shouldering higher tuition costs. Tuition costs can deter some students from enrolling in higher education, including students of color and low-income students, it said.

Federal aid may have helped some families keep up with rising tuition costs. Between 2008 and 2016, total Pell Grant aid increased by 68 percent. The average grant rose by 23 percent, to $3,034, as the grant’s value has in recent years been indexed to inflation. But low-income students are still saddled with heavy debt, according to the report. It also worries about the effects of proposals by Republicans to cut from the Pell program.

“Unfortunately, there are reasons to be concerned that federal student aid, including Pell Grants, will do less, rather than more, to help low- and moderate-income students afford college going forward,” said Sharon Parrott, senior fellow and senior counselor at the center.

The report concludes by saying that past higher education funding cuts would have been less necessary if policy makers had put in place a more balanced mix of spending cuts and revenue increases during the Great Recession. It calls for states to avoid tax cuts and consider options for raising new revenue in order to boost public higher education and its long-term benefits to the economy.

Explore your options, but know the cost

One of the many assets that universities in the U.S have to offer is the ability to pick and choose exactly what you want to study. The curriculum is designed, or rather marketed, in a way that promises students that they don’t have to know what they are doing and have the luxury of changing their major even as late as sophomore year. For example, AU requires that students complete general education courses before selecting a major. Many majors are also small enough or overlap with other courses of study, granting students leeway to explore their interests.

Unfortunately, however, these naive explorations do not always end with a pot of gold, but rather, as in my case, a grade point average that is much below what I thought I would have and a misrepresentation of my academic abilities and reputation as a student.

When I decided I wanted to major in journalism, it was largely fueled by the fact that I knew, if there was one thing in this world I was good at, it was writing. When I said that my first semester of college, it sounded like a humble brag. Now, as I enter my junior year, I am beginning to realize that I might just be a one-trick pony. I originally wanted to double major in economics, a subject I was passionate about and understood. Having taken the subject in high school, I confidently registered for microeconomics, knowing that it would be an easy A. The first exam did not go well, which left me confused. I decided to read the textbook diligently and went over the exam material with my peers. I walked out of the second exam with a smile on my face—a short-lived smile on my face. Although only a miracle would be able to change my final grade, I did everything I could to study for my final exam. I used AU’s freshman forgiveness policy for microeconomics, vowing to myself that I would pick my classes and professors more wisely and not make a stupid mistake that would affect my GPA again.

Except now, I was faced with a dilemma. What would my second major or minor be? I was a sophomore now, yet I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to study. That is, until I took a business class to fulfill a general education credit and realized that this was something I might want to pursue. I researched AU’s business degree, concluding that this seemed like something I would really enjoy. I decided to take up a minor in business, something that would give me a broad overview of the business world and a potential backup plan. I also realized I had enough space in my schedule for another minor (but not a major) and decided that international service would probably compliment my actual major the best.

I was excited to finally have my majors and minors and life together. I would have a diverse set of classes. It would be the exposure that journalism students need to make it, right?

That is, if you’re good at the subjects. My business minor required I take basic statistics and financial accounting. Both were math-based and had devastating results on my GPA. It seemed impossible to juggle all my classes, extracurriculars and social life when these two classes alone seemed like they were akin to carrying a 15-credit workload. I found myself crumbling under the pressure.

The very thing that made the American college system so desirable and interesting left me with a weak GPA.

With all the academic freedom that the American higher education system provides, we do not know what to do with all it. We often do not know where to go for help and advice. Being in a new community means that you are the only one who really knows what your strengths and weaknesses are, at least while you’re a freshman. I was bad at math and I knew it, but I still took a chance and overestimated myself. I was in denial about lacking economic talent so I retook the class, eventually taking even more economics classes.

While academic advisors are at our disposal, they are only trained to know their particular school well and don’t really know what to tell students about other subjects. In my experience, it creates a sharp divide between the two majors that I would ideally like to meld together. That being said, I think that it is imperative for schools to create solutions to this issue. For example, schools could create programs where students can take quizzes or read over a basic syllabus before signing up for a class. Academic Advisors should be able to help students get a better grasp of courses and provide a better explanation of what a skills students’ need to excel. Furthermore, students should be allowed to drop a class when they please, without negative consequences like a “W” on their transcript– a system that universities like the University of California, Los Angeles have. For me, my issue was simply with figuring out what I wanted to do other than my main degree. Students who don’t know what they want to major in could spend several semesters just trying out various classes and like me, find out the hard way that they aren’t cut out for some subjects, or they might spend too long testing different classes and end up with no space for failure. There is no simple solution for this problem, but guidance and a better way to try out classes would help students who are facing similar dilemmas.

sloganathan@theeagleonline.com


When it comes to controversial science, a little knowledge is a problem

For a lot of scientific topics, there’s a big gap between what scientists understand and what the public thinks it knows. For a number of these topics—climate change and evolution are prominent examples—this divide develops along cultural lines, typically religious or political identity.

It would be reassuring to think that the gap is simply a matter of a lack of information. Get the people with doubts about science up to speed, and they’d see things the way that scientists do. Reassuring, but wrong. A variety of studies have indicated that the public’s doubts about most scientific topics have nothing to do with how much they understand that topic. And a new study out this week joins a number of earlier ones in indicating that scientific knowledge makes it easier for those who are culturally inclined to reject a scientific consensus.

What’s the consensus?

The new work was done by two social scientists at Carnegie Mellon University, Caitlin Drummond and Baruch Fishchoff. They relied on a large, regular survey called the General Social Survey, which attempts to capture the public’s perspective on a large variety of issues (they used data from the 2006 and 2010 iterations of the survey). The survey included a number of questions on general education and scientific education, as well as a number of questions that determined basic scientific literacy. In addition, it asked for opinions on a number of scientific issues: acceptance of the evidence for the Big Bang, human evolution, and climate change; thoughts on the safety of GMOs and nanotechnology; and the degree to which the government should fund stem cell research.

The survey also included questions on its participants’ political and religious identity. The authors performed a variety of statistical tests designed to determine whether there were any correlations among these opinions. Since there were so many factors under consideration, the standard statistical measure—a five-percent chance of a result occurring at random—was deemed insufficient. Instead, the researchers only reported results that had a one-percent chance of occurring at random. Although one percent seems a bit arbitrary, the increased statistical rigor is something that would be good to see more often.

We’ll do the good news first: there’s no sign of cultural polarization on GMOs or nanotechnology. The former is a bit of a surprise given the widespread public mistrust of this biotechnology (and the frequent claim that the problem arises from a bunch of lefty granola eaters). It would also be easy to envision religious opposition on these topics, given that both involve “playing God” in the sense that humans are creating things that don’t commonly occur naturally.

But that’s about where the good news ends. Drummond and Fishchoff found strong polarization on most of the other topics.

In terms of stem cell research, evolution, and the Big Bang, those with a stronger general education showed greater political polarization, with conservatives more likely to reject them. For those with a strong science education, those topics were also polarized, as was climate change. In a bit of good news, high levels of scientific literacy removed the Big Bang from that list. Put differently, stem cell research and evolution were consistently polarized along political lines. As scientific literacy went up, climate change became politicized, too, but people were more likely to accept the evidence for the Big Bang.

Partly overlapping effects were seen when religious fundamentalism was considered, the exception being climate change, where opinion wasn’t polarized along religious lines. Stem cell research, the Big Bang, and human evolution were, however.

Education vs. science

Overall, Drummond and Fishchoff found that education doesn’t make much of a difference when it comes to accepting science. “Participants’ general educational attainment and science education were at best weakly related to their acceptance of the scientific consensus,” they conclude. Scientific literacy helped a bit overall, as “those with higher scientific literacy scores were more likely to agree with the scientific consensus on three issues: the Big Bang, human evolution, and nanotechnology.”

But that was largely due to the large effect it had among political and religious liberals. In other ways, it hurt, as those with a strong science education or who demonstrated scientific literacy showed higher polarization when it came to stem cells, evolution, and the climate, primarily because conservatives become less likely to accept the scientific consensus.

Ultimately, the thing that matters most is trust. “On all six topics,” the authors write, “people who trust the scientific enterprise more are also more likely to accept its findings.” The politicization of scientific issues may, in part, be the result of a long-term decline in trust in the scientific enterprise among conservatives.

As always, there are some caveats when it comes to the questions asked in the survey. For example, it’s tough to get a firm grasp on scientific literacy from a few survey questions, and the percentages seen in many surveys depend on how various questions are phrased. For example, an individual may answer a question on dinosaurs in a way that acknowledges that they lived millions of years ago while answering a question on human origins by saying they didn’t evolve. And the climate question asked how much participants were “concerned” about climate change. It’s entirely possible for someone to accept the science of human-driven climate change while rejecting scientists’ conclusions of what a 4-degrees-Celsius-warmer world would look like.

Those caveats would be more significant if it weren’t for the fact that multiple other studies have seen more or less the same thing. For example, Dan Kahan at Yale found that there’s no difference between liberals and conservatives when it comes to knowing what scientists have determined about the climate, and the understanding gets better as climate literacy rises. But ask the same people what they believe, and conservatives with higher climate literacy are less likely to agree with the scientists.

As scientific literacy goes up to the right, conservatives are equally likely to know what scientists have concluded and less likely to believe that themselves.

The question is why. Here, the authors propose two mechanisms. One involves motivated reasoning, in which people accept or reject information depending on whether it conforms to what they’d prefer to believe. Arguably, those with better scientific literacy would be more adept at rejecting some scientific information. The alternative is a sort of anti-Dunning-Kruger, one where actual knowledge leads to a level of confidence that allows people to maintain extreme views. Drummond and Fishchoff also suggest that better general education may make people more aware of which topics have become the subject of a polarizing controversy.

Unfortunately, the study doesn’t identify which of these (if any) is a factor. In many ways, the most important things identified in the study may be nanotechnology and GMOs, as these are cases where polarization hasn’t occurred, despite ample opportunities. If we can figure out why, it might help us keep future technologies from becoming embroiled in arguments that have little to do with the underlying tech.

PNAS, 2017. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1704882114  (About DOIs).

Report Examines State Funding Cuts

A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities compares state spending on two- and four-year public colleges and universities over a decade, finding funding at the end of the 2017 academic year was nearly $9 billion below its 2008 level, after adjusting for inflation.

On a per student basis, 44 of 49 states analyzed spent less in 2017 than in 2008, found the report, released today. The average state spent $1,448, or 16 percent, less per student.

Falling state spending has consequences, according to the center, a research and policy think tank focused on budget and tax policies that help low-income people. Today’s report draws heavily on data from two other well-known annual reports on higher education finance, the Grapevine survey and the State Higher Education Finance report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers association.

“State spending on higher education is important because state and local governments provide just over half of the money that public colleges use for educational purposes,” said Michael Mitchell, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and one of the report’s authors. “If that amount goes down, public institutions generally have to raise more funds through tuition, they have to cut their own campus budgets, or some combination of those two things.”

Since 2008, average annual published tuition at four-year public institutions has increased by $2,484, or 35 percent.

The report argues that families have had a difficult time shouldering higher tuition costs. Tuition costs can deter some students from enrolling in higher education, including students of color and low-income students, it said.

Federal aid may have helped some families keep up with rising tuition costs. Between 2008 and 2016, total Pell Grant aid increased by 68 percent. The average grant rose by 23 percent, to $3,034, as the grant’s value has in recent years been indexed to inflation. But low-income students are still saddled with heavy debt, according to the report. It also worries about the effects of proposals by Republicans to cut from the Pell program.

“Unfortunately, there are reasons to be concerned that federal student aid, including Pell Grants, will do less, rather than more, to help low- and moderate-income students afford college going forward,” said Sharon Parrott, senior fellow and senior counselor at the center.

The report concludes by saying that past higher education funding cuts would have been less necessary if policy makers had put in place a more balanced mix of spending cuts and revenue increases during the Great Recession. It calls for states to avoid tax cuts and consider options for raising new revenue in order to boost public higher education and its long-term benefits to the economy.

What’s new at OCU | Spotlight | circlevilleherald.com

Email mmccain@circlevilleherald.com.

Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT)

According to New York State, school personnel assigned to each Integrated Co-Teaching class must minimally include a special education teacher and a general education teacher. In New York City, the special education teacher must be certified/licensed and appointed in special education and the general education teacher must be certified/licensed and appointed under a general education or content area license. The general education or content area teacher has primary responsibility for delivery of content area instruction in an ICT class. The special education teacher is responsible for designing and delivering specialized instruction to students with disabilities.

The number of students with disabilities in an Integrated Co-Teaching class may not exceed 40 percent of the total class register with a maximum of 12 students with disabilities. Integrated Co-Teaching classes must adhere to general education class-size limits. Under Integrated Co-Teaching, classes that normally have a class-size limit of 20 students will increase to 25 students, with a maximum of 10 students having disabilities.

The 40 percent and 12-student limit includes any student with a disability in that class, regardless of whether all of the students are recommended for integrated co-teaching services. For example, if two students with disabilities in a class are recommended for resource room and related services and 10 are recommended for integrated co-teaching services, there are 12 students with disabilities in that classroom. While the two students in the above example may benefit incidentally from the integrated co-teaching services, their IEPs would not need to specify the integrated co-teaching services.

Effective December 2010, state regulations were changed to allow schools to add one additional student (13th student) to an ICT class by notifying the state Education Department and to add a 14th student with prior approval by the state Education Department. According to state guidance, schools can exceed the maximum of 12 students with disabilities in ICT classes “only when exceptional circumstances arise.”

Report Examines State Funding Cuts Over Last Decade

A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities compares state spending on two- and four-year public colleges and universities over a decade, finding funding at the end of the 2017 academic year was nearly $9 billion below its 2008 level, after adjusting for inflation.

On a per student basis, 44 of 49 states analyzed spent less in 2017 than in 2008, found the report, released today. The average state spent $1,448, or 16 percent, less per student.

Falling state spending has consequences, according to the center, a research and policy think tank focused on budget and tax policies that help low-income people. Today’s report draws heavily on data from two other well-known annual reports on higher education finance, the Grapevine survey and the State Higher Education Finance report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers association.

“State spending on higher education is important because state and local governments provide just over half of the money that public colleges use for educational purposes,” said Michael Mitchell, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and one of the report’s authors. “If that amount goes down, public institutions generally have to raise more funds through tuition, they have to cut their own campus budgets, or some combination of those two things.”

Since 2008, average annual published tuition at four-year public institutions has increased by $2,484, or 35 percent.

The report argues that families have had a difficult time shouldering higher tuition costs. Tuition costs can deter some students from enrolling in higher education, including students of color and low-income students, it said.

Federal aid may have helped some families keep up with rising tuition costs. Between 2008 and 2016, total Pell Grant aid increased by 68 percent. The average grant rose by 23 percent, to $3,034, as the grant’s value has in recent years been indexed to inflation. But low-income students are still saddled with heavy debt, according to the report. It also worries about the effects of proposals by Republicans to cut from the Pell program.

“Unfortunately, there are reasons to be concerned that federal student aid, including Pell Grants, will do less, rather than more, to help low- and moderate-income students afford college going forward,” said Sharon Parrott, senior fellow and senior counselor at the center.

The report concludes by saying that past higher education funding cuts would have been less necessary if policy makers had put in place a more balanced mix of spending cuts and revenue increases during the Great Recession. It calls for states to avoid tax cuts and consider options for raising new revenue in order to boost public higher education and its long-term benefits to the economy.

Educational Malpractice

In an appearance on a recent episode of Wes Moore’s “Future City” podcast on education technology, Moore asked me about online education and its potential to be “more democratic,” allowing underserved and underesourced students access to educational opportunities. 

I said that in the absence of other opportunities, something online is better than nothing at all. (I said a bunch of other stuff too. It’s around 14:45 into the recording.) I also said as an educational experience, those online credentials are vastly inferior, but still, doesn’t something have to be better than nothing?

I’m wondering about that now. I’m wondering because I’ve had the opportunity to review the English 101 curriculum at StraighterLine, an online education provider whose “on demand general education courses” are guaranteed to transfer for college credit to over 100 partnering institutions, one of which is McNeese St. University in Lake Charles, LA, where I taught English 101 from 1994-97 as a graduate student. 

Students can now avoid the English 101 requirement by completing the StraighterLine equivalent for $79 (once you’ve signed up for the monthly membership of $99).[1] 

Should they?

I suppose it depends on what one values, an education, or a relatively cheap and easy path toward a credential.

Even with the membership sign up, English 101 on StraighterLine will only cost you $178 for the course. At my local community college (Trident Tech), cost per credit hour is $184, so a 3-hour English 101 course will cost you $552.  At SOWELA Tech, the closest 2-year school to McNeese St., the course would be $846. At McNeese, 3 hours of credit as a part time student is just over $1,000.

But based on a review of the course syllabus and engaging with the free trial, if the goal is an experience that takes advantage of even a fraction of what is known about effective approaches to developing as a writer, StraighterLine is educational malpractice.

At StraighterLine, English 101 uses a “modes” approach to composition, teaching different forms such as narrative and compare and contrast essays. Coincidentally (or maybe not), we used the same curriculum when I started at McNeese St. in 1994.

It was out of date even then.

More troubling is the sequencing of the material. The first lesson, which must be completed before trying any other lesson, is on “plagiarism,” and features a link to the very useful (as a reference) Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) as well as a short slide presentation on the StraighterLine philosophy toward plagiarism, including a warning that those who are found guilty of an offense being informed they will fail the course.

The second unit is titled, “Proper Grammar: Friend or Foe?” If you are curious as to how proper grammar could be a “foe,” I join your confusion.

Similar to the plagiarism lesson, there is a slide deck presentation with audio narration that sounds like it was recorded by a human attempting to sound like a computer, which is attempting to sound like a human. The introduction to comma use has this tidbit, “To talk, you have to breathe – although most teenage girls are able to stretch this rule to the limit. The comma replaces that breath in your writing, but where and when to use it can be confusing.”

I’m troubled by this material for several reasons beyond the casual sexism in the above statement.

For one, regarding plagiarism and source use, we know that it is better to teach students a holistic view of sources and sourcing rather than a list of decontextualized rules. For two, in an effort to make it easier to follow and enforce those rules, they give bad advice.

The plagiarism unit quiz has the following question:

“True or False: If research is not required for an essay, you should avoid research so you can avoid the temptation to take ideas from others.”

Because I was a lousy StraighterLine student and didn’t view the slides first, I got this wrong. I answered “false.” The StraighterLine answer is “true.”

But oh, how I need people to understand that if the goal is to help students truly learn to write, the answer must be false. Writing is for audiences. Writing is to engage the world. Even if we are writing something in which sources may not be directly cited, the idea that we should wall ourselves off from possible sources of inspiration or edification in order to avoid “plagiarism” is nutso cuckoo.

But those values are not at play in the StraighterLine course.

Being exposed to a gestalt that helps students better understand and engage with writing in different contexts is subsumed to that more direct path to a credential.

Honestly, thinking about students being exposed to this material made me sad.

The grammar and commas lessons are rote and also without context, a technique that has been discredited since the 1950’s. More sad making.

StraighterLine does require the completion of actual writing assignments in addition to the quizzes that accompany each unit. Those writing assignments are read by “tutors” who provide feedback. I’m not spending $178 just to see what kind of feedback an assignment receives, so I can’t comment on that part of the course, though it appears for the less expensive option, you can’t necessarily expect the same “tutor” to read each attempt.

On the plus side, there is some attention to the writing process, though this appears to be assessed by a quiz of the “What are the steps in the writing process?” variety, rather than an instructor examining the student work and commenting on where issues with process may be evident in the writing and discussing future approaches.

StraighterLine’s deficiencies are not inherent to the Internet and writing instruction. Writing can absolutely be taught effectively over the internet, though those who have done it will tell you it is every bit as time consuming and demanding as teaching writing face-to-face. A more up-to-date curriculum could be designed. Better lessons and approaches exist, and most of all, it could be staffed by an instructor who will engage with the same students over an extended period of time, giving deep personalized attention to each, but there is no incentive for StraighterLine to adapt or improve curriculum as long as students are enrolling and their partner institutions continue to give transfer credit. They are fulfilling every bit of their mission.

StraigherLine is the logical extension of credentialism, and is a prime example of Tressie McMillian Cottom’s “LowerEd,” a bargain basement experience that passes muster for credit at for-profit institutions interested in efficiency, or non-profit public institutions (like McNeese St.) that are perpetually strapped for resources. StraighterLine is no scam. In this category, they’re one of the good ones. They deliver exactly what they promise, which is the problem.

Perhaps it plays a necessary role for those who are held back from advancement for lack of a credential, but let’s not kid ourselves that it has much to do with education.

“Solutions” like StraighterLine will only exacerbate the gaps between those who have access to face-to-face education and those who don’t.

To that end, it fits the legacy of much of educational technology. If you are among the have’s, you get to use technology as a tool. If you are among the have nots, you must subsume yourself to the technology.

If this is the future of education, if this is the only education available to people because of cost or other issues of access, we’re in a lot of trouble.

San Dieguito ready to tackle special education with task force

The San Dieguito Union High School District held a special education workshop on Aug. 17, providing a general overview of the state of the program as a whole and sharing goals for the future with the board and a group of highly-engaged parents.

Mark Miller, the associate superintendent of administrative services, said this year San Dieguito is prepared to evaluate the special education curriculum, improve transition planning for students at all levels and to increase parent participation. The parents will be involved in the district’s recently- approved special education task force that will take a look at a variety of topics in order to craft a long-term strategic plan. The group is expected to begin meeting this fall.

“I think we can all agree that the last couple months in this district have been quite a turbulent ride. Often it is with these turbulent times that produce learning on what could’ve been done differently,” Miller said.

Miller said district staff has heard numerous concerns from special education parents over the last several months and has been working “diligently” to address them. They have relocated the Adult Transition Program from portables at Earl Warren to new classrooms at La Costa Canyon High School, worked to increase support for students at the site level, and have hired of administrators with special education experience. As of July 1, the district’s administrative services department was re-organized, with the key focus of integrating general education and special education. Miller said, “All students are general education students first.”

“We have also learned that much work needs to be done around communication and in creating a community of inclusion at our school sites,” Miller said. “One common theme that I’ve heard over and over is that our parent community wants to work with the district in providing a road map for special education…The task force has the potential to be an environment where members can learn specifics about special education services, pour into data and meaningfully participate in civil discourse and ultimately draft a plan around special education.”

In the workshop, Miller went over how the district’s special education program was performing through various measurements, such as graduation rates, California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) test scores, and post-secondary education and employment.

The CAASPP scores are just one measure to mark student progress. Miller said more students with disabilities are taking the general test while a smaller subgroup of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities take the California alternate assessment. This is a change from the state’s old testing program where a larger population took the alternate assessment.

Miller showed charts that showed the percentage of students who met or exceed standards on the CAASPP math test were at 26 percent, compared to 15 percent county-wide and 9 percent of the state.

Miller said that he knows math is an area in which students with disabilities are struggling.

“The way the information is presented does not provide enough details to help the board appreciate how poorly La Costa Canyon and Torrey Pines are doing, and those two schools have most of the students with disabilities,” said parent Lucile Lynch. “The lack of scrutiny by school site is one of the issues we repeatedly raised in the special education committee meetings this past year.”

According to the School Accountability Report Cards, Lynch said only 8 percent of students with disabilities at La Costa Canyon Canyon met or exceed standards and at Torrey Pines, only 5 percent met or exceed standards, meaning 95 percent are not proficient.

“We know we have work to do, math is a specific area that we are not scoring well,” said Miller, noting they are working to shore up the program and provide intervention measures.

Miller said the district’s measurement of post-secondary education and employment is “flawed” and they need to come up with a better way to track their students’ success. San Dieguito is working to improve students’ transition to post-school life by developing a plan based on students’ strengths, preferences and interests. One parent said that the district needs to be more thoughtful in its assessments of students and take into account their individual skills — “don’t just put them in retail.”

Miller also discussed the due process complaint procedure within the district and how, as much as possible, they work to resolve differences. A due process complaint is a written document used to request a hearing related to the identification, evaluation or educational placement of a child with a disability or the provision of a free, appropriate public education to the child. The complaint can be filed by a parent or the public agency — the district is required to file when the parent refuses to consent to any part of a special education student’s IEP (Individualized Education Program).

Of 1,365 students on IEP in San Dieguito, nine parents filed a due process complaint in 2016-17 and the district filed five. In 2016-17, the district spent $162,347 in legal fees and $634,102 in mediation settlements.

“To me, we need to find out why parents (or IEP teams) are asking that students be moved out of the district,” Lynch said. “I know many of the families that are no longer in one of the district’s schools and they all seem to have commonalities that could possibly be addressed by this district in order to retain their presence in a district school.”

Across the state, due process complaints have increased over the last several years — “Our expectations are higher,” one parent said. “Parents are fighting more because they know that their kids are capable of making improvements and progress.”

In concluding the workshop, Miller said he believes that the district is in a good position to work with the community to examine issues and come up with solutions for all students.

“I believe now is the time to move forward and not backward,” Miller said. “District staff has committed to improving student learning, we’ve committed to seeking parent input and we’ve committed to community engagement through this newly-formed task force. I believe that continuing pointing of fingers and continued disparaging of the special education staff is not going to be productive. We have listened.”

“We want the best for our kids,” said parent Kaya Hogan. “I’m excited for this to work. Let us tell you want we need.”