Sunday, March 27, 2011

The auditors are coming, the auditors are coming...Mr. Wilson, get a clue!

Let's begin with a point of clarification...the last audit of our school system by the Virginia Department of Education, was "a scathing report pointing out six areas where the ACPS public-school system failed to meet federal standards" the results of which were based on the status of our city's schools pre-Sherman.  So, while we at The Underground are profoundly disappointed by the Superintendent's lack of accountability to the citizenry (not a word in response to the ten questions posted, last week on this blog), we do not/cannot extend our disappointment to data driven by ineptitude that predated Sherman's arrival.

We will however jump all over Sherman for his feeble and disingenuous attempt at addressing a key component of the latest audit--discipline.  According to the Department of Education, "When the last audit was conducted, a special education student in Alexandria was three times as likely to be suspended than a student without a disability."  No credible argument can be offered that this is not an area of grave concern with no less than all students' civil rights and physical well-being at stake.  

According to Michael Pope's recent article in the Alexandria Gazette, "When auditors arrive in Alexandria next week, they will find two new programs in place that Sherman says have been successful in reducing the number of discipline referrals for special-education students. One is called Response to intervention and the other Positive Behavioral Intervention Support."

While the severity of the discipline crisis among our special education students cries out for serious, school based interventions that are both proven and feasible Mort Sherman has instead turned, yet again, to the world of profit-driven, money-focused, quick fix, gimmicky programs.  

Just read what Jay Greene, endowed chair and head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. has to say about Response to Intervention. 

" My point is that the systems that school districts have adopted for the evaluation and identification of disabilities are shaped by these financial incentives so that even well-meaning practitioners will tend to over-identify disabilities when there are financial rewards for doing so.
Of course, RTI does nothing to address these financial incentives for increasing special ed enrollments.  In fact, it may contribute to those perverse incentives because schools are rewarded even more by placing more students in special education because they now get to divert 15% of that money for general education, which is essentially fungible.  And to make matters worse, diverting 15% of special education money away from disabled students may short-change truly disabled students who need those resources."

Next, is the program with which I have quite a bit of firsthand knowledge and experience, Positive Behavioral Intervention Support or PBIS.  This is the program, as it is implemented in our schools, that bestows instant and long-term rewards (toys, toys, trinkets, privileges) upon students whenever they demonstrate a modicum of socially acceptable behavior.  At some schools there is a gift/toy catalog that recalcitrant students pore over before robbing some decent child of his PBIS tickets and later exchanging them for gifts and toys.

In their article, Positive Behavior Support, A Paternalistic  Utopian Vision, the authors (Mulick and Butter of OSU and Columbus Children's Hospital)  point out that "PBS is not a science, but rather a form of illusion that leads to dangerously biased decision making.  What little benefit in education or community service settings PBS practitioners might be able to provide is more than offset by the cost to them and their students of distorting the reality of the very behavioral processes they seek to alter and use to benefit people with disabilities."

These studies concerning the two programs ostensibly put in place to help our special education population, exposes them for what they are--costly, ineffective and, in some cases, harmful approaches to a deep rooted crisis.  Rather than solicit input from those with the most at stake, here,  the parents and teachers, we witness Sherman executing the 'end around', again.  Force programs down the throats of all, without assessing needs or efficacy, keep the public out of the loop, spend money unfettered and expect everyone affected to shut up.  

I witnessed the unthinkable at a recent school board hearing.  A father deigned to speak to the board about his child at James K. Polk, inappropriately placed in the 'mainstream' classroom and enduring little success and many hardships.  When he finished his very moving testimony, Sherman said nothing, indeed never changed expression and the gentleman was thanked for his time by Ms. Ffolkes and forgotten.

"I don’t know where I am going, but I am on my way."
— Voltaire
Note- One point of clarification on the statistic that "a special education student in Alexandria is three times as likely to be suspended than a student without a disability." That's not a statistic from the Virginia Department of Education. It comes from an Alexandria Gazette Packet story from September 2009that combined data from the Washington Area Boards of Education with statistics from ACPS to show the disproportionate nature of discipline in the school system.


  1. Violence at our school has never been worse-bullying, fighting, disruptions in the classroom and hallways! These programs are a joke!

  2. Thank you for a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece.

  3. time to watch the rats scurry.

  4. I'm interested in what you mean about 'watch the rats scurry'.



  5. "Watch the rats scurry" refers to the soon to be rush to make everything appear in order for this audit.

  6. Not on the topic of special ed audit but I think this also due to an audit. Principals at Title I schools got emails toward the end of last week telling them to get a long list of reports ready and turned in by the end of the next day. Title I teachers, and I doubt principals had been either, had NEVER been given the list prior to that and did not have the paperwork filed, let alone compiled. Teachers were pulled from instruction to put together the reports and papers. Rats scurrying to make everything in order for Title I audit!

  7. My colleagues who have children with extreme behavior problems caused by emotional disturbance in their classes have been subjected to these *programs* and the ridiculous individuals who drop in for 30 minutes max and tell the teachers to reward the students every 5 minutes for every little thing they do. How does a teacher teach and reward a emotionally disturbed child every 5 minutes? I have sat in on SST and Child Study meetings where these behavioral specialists sandbag all plans that would actually move things toward really helping the child. In 2 instances, the behavioral specialist observed the child for 15 minutes in PE and never in the regular classroom.

  8. It'd be great if one of us at each school would forward this to the entire staff at that school. It's insane that all ACPS employees are not reading this. It's easy to do...from your school email, just send an email with the in the text of the email and send it to, for example for Cora Kelly. It's the least we can do.

  9. Not sure why you are puzzled about the lack of response from Sherman. In order for him to reply it would mean that he had to acknowledge the existence of this blog and that he actually reads it. That he would not do. Also answering would require him to go off of his set, circular speak and actually commit to something he might be held to and be measured by. All of that is something that comes under the the heading of No Can Do for him. Please don't hold your breath. There is nothing that is open and honest about him. He really does not know the definition of transparency or collaboration. We are quite simply caught up in mad man's vision quest. May God have mercy on our souls.

  10. I posted the 4 questions that were the "Quote of the Week." It took me 3 hours to write and format them (although when re-pasted my beautiful formatting was ruined!). I would expect it would take longer to formulate a proper and cogent response.

    Give the man some time. I believe he is a man of his word and will respond in time and nobody here is hurt by the small delay.

  11. Fair enough Anonymous @ 1:55...sorry for the butchering of the beautiful formatting.

  12. interesting article:

    How to Raise the Status of Teachers
    Aside from a pay increase, what are other ways of attracting high-quality educators?

    Let Us Teach!
    Updated March 27, 2011, 07:00 PM

    Vern Williams teaches honors math at Longfellow Middle School in Fairfax County, Va. He was named to the National Mathematics Advisory Panel in 2006.

    I really doubt that it is possible to raise the status of teachers and teaching in the U.S. considering the major stake holders currently involved in K through 12 education. I understand why students in the top third academically refuse to become teachers, while in Finland, Singapore and South Korea, teaching candidates are selected only from the top third.

    Until classroom teachers are allowed to make real decisions regarding curriculum, assessment, textbooks and professional development, the status of teachers will remain low. .What we, as teachers, need to do is take back our profession. Most teachers will take to the streets and protest over salaries, pensions and working conditions, but how many teachers would do the same if someone who has never taught their grade level or subject, imposed a new curriculum or demanded that certain pedagogy be followed? Until practicing classroom teachers are allowed to make real decisions regarding curriculum, assessment, textbooks and professional development, the status of teachers will remain low.

    At the moment, our profession seems to be in the hands of politicians, researchers, special interest groups, school system bureaucracies, unions, technology companies and textbook publishers. Even though I highly respected the members of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel I served on, I was the only practicing K through 12 teacher on the panel. Why should bright high school students decide to become teachers if they suspect that everyone will make decisions concerning their profession except them?

    In the 1990s, I spent three weeks during a few of my summers teaching for the Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth. I found it fascinating how instructors were treated and respected. They were careful in who they hired, but once hired they trusted you to plan and teach your assigned course to your students without interference.

    Even though I was teaching sixth graders, I felt the prestige of a college professor. This is how teachers should feel each and every day in their classrooms if the status of teaching is to be raised.

  13. So an IEP is not an individual action plan for a student?

  14. Well, yes, but as you surely know, IEP stands for "Individual Education Plan". Since there is another document called an "IAP", the distinction is important. A reporter should be able to keep the two straight if he's paying attention...

  15. No he shouldn't, because IAP's didn't exist when the reporter wrote the article in September 2009. They are a recent creation of the masterful mind of Mr. Sherman. The reporter was explaining what an IEP was for the thousands of Gazette readers who had never read, implemented, or even heard of an IEP. That distinction is important. The reporter's use of layman's terms in quotations in no way diminishes the credibility of those raising awareness and asking questions of what is taking place within ACPS through this medium. A reader should be able to keep the two straight...