An Interview with Dee Alpert: The Special Education Muckraker

Michael F. Shaughnessy Senior Columnist EdNews.org
Eastern New Mexico University

1. First of all, what got you involved in special education?

My husband and I diagnosed our son as having a mild disability when he was 5. The Tourette Syndrome Association then was kind enough to give us incredible help after we had a complete disaster with the first "expert" our son was referred to. As a "thank you," I offered to give TSA a bit of help, on the theory that I might as well learn about the special education system in case our son needed it in the future.

I wound up a few months later doing a 12 day hearing, pro bono, for a parent whose son had – literally – been made suicidal by the awful things his school district was doing to him.They could have cared less.It was scary.

It was also, without a doubt, the most corrupt administrative proceeding I've ever experienced.The district's school psychologist perjured himself about lengthy and extensive phone consultations he'd engaged in with the boy's outside treating neurologist:the neurologist swore that he had never spoken to this man in his life and had never even heard his name before I mentioned it.The allegedly impartial hearing officer had lunch with the other side at least twice during the proceedings and, in my presence, actually called the NYS Ed. Dept. to find out how to evade a special ed. regulation which should have required him to rule in our favor.NYSED being NYSED, of course, the special ed honcho he spoke to him told him what he should do and ...On appeal to the NYSED State Review Office, we submitted my affidavit and my client's affidavit stating that the attorney for the district admitted to us that he had lunch with the "impartial" hearing officer during the hearing.The district's reply to this allegation in the appeal papers was to "deny information sufficient to form a belief."Needless to say, the State Review Officer found that we had not submitted evidence any showing that this occurred.NYSED's State Review process was, and is, notoriously corrupt, so that was no surprise.

I was also really was appalled at the way this intelligent, informed, involved and caring parent was treated and how free the district felt to simply blow off everything the child's outside expert psychiatrist told them about the kid's status and needs.And the corrupt hearing and appeal was just too outrageous to let pass.So I went into special education to try to clean up the obviously corrupted and incompetent system because it's not right to let well-paid school people do tremendous harm to a vulnerable kid with a disability, while at the same time being allowed to treat the parent like trash.And especially not when, as in this case, the parent paid their salaries through heavy school taxes.

I'm a child of the '60's, and I guess that trying to right some very obvious governmental wrongs was just part of my generation's thing.

1) How did the Special Education Muckraker get started and what do you hope to accomplish?

People kept telling me that material – opinions, analyses – in my e-mails and on 'net discussion lists were really valuable.I kept getting requests for permission to forward or circulate my e-mails.So I decided to set up a web site to make the material more easily accessible for everyone.

The SpecialEducationMuckraker.com home page says it all – we're trying to do something about the ferocious incompetence and corruption in the American special education system.So far, so good.We (there are a bunch of us who do muckraking in the special education arena) have very good contacts with criminal law enforcement officials and agencies and also good relationships with many policy makers around the country.There haven't been many publicized prosecutions of people for special education corruption, or for abusing disabled kids in schools – so far. We hope that our efforts will change that – in 2007. Stay tuned.

2) Let's face it. Special Education is the most problematic domain in education. Schools have children that years ago would have been institutionalized, expelled, and educated in the basement, if at all. What do you see currently happening in the year 2007?

Unfortunately, while kids who would have been institutionalized or educated in the basement years ago are now in all kinds of public schools, the special education industry has not responded by upgrading the professional knowledge and skills of its members.The vast majority of problems that kids with disabilities face in schools are due to fully certified special ed staff and administrators who haven't a clue about the developments in the fields of professional psychology, psychiatry, neurology, neuroscience in the last 30 years.When parents come to IEP meetings with experts who treat their children, they almost invariably face situations where the school speducation "experts" have no idea what the outside experts are talking about.The speducation system has empowered such people to reject everything an outside treating professional says, writes, recommends ... It would be called gross negligence in the real world.So parents who have done all the right things – informed themselves about their children's disabilities, secured the highest level of experts for their children's treatment, suddenly find themselves in a situation where, for example, the outside experts say that the child is deaf – "deaf as a post" as one mom wrote – and has never been able to hear a thing, and never will, while the school speducation "experts" insist that in the rarified world of a public school building, the child can hear.Not hear perfectly, of course, but well enough to get along without special education services for the deaf.

The rehabilitation field, and the many experts in habilitation programs for severely disabled kids, have developed numerous ways of making incredible progress with these kids.I have yet to see a group of public school special educators who knew much of anything regarding recent developments in effective treatment or therapies in these fields.In fact, information from the rehabilitation and habilitation arenas are typically rejected outright by special educators because they allegedly use a "medical model" of treatment and education, while speducators use an "educational model."

The differences between the two are pretty clear, and rather depressing.Treatment and rehab professionals in the real world are required to engage in continuing professional education.If they don't, and a patient makes little or no progress, or is harmed by their negligence, they can be sued and/or brought up on professional incompetence or misconduct charges.And if they don't help their clients make progress ... they get fired and replaced by professionals who do.Special educators are not required to take high-level continuing education courses and usually, they get whatever "staff development" their districts offer to their teachers.When kids in special ed environments make little or no progress, the adults who have failed to help these kids make significant, objective progress get off scott free.They can't be sued; they certainly won't lose their teaching or other special education credentials and ultimately, they blame the students.And the parents can't choose other teachers and related service providers who are competent for their children.

The reason that "Response to Intervention" was added to the IDEA in 2004 as a pre-referral strategy was because so many really high level experts from so many fields, including special ed – who knew what was really going on out in the field – decided that the special education industry was, for all intents and purposes, hopeless.So they decided to get heroic about stopping kids from being classified as having disabilities in the first place.Because once a kid gets placed "in" special ed, and gets the special education and related services provided by the speducation industry's experts ... they never come out.Whereas kids who receive remediation and related services in the private sector do very, very well.

In 2000, the President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education held a hearing in Brooklyn.One well-respected national special education expert actually said that he wished that the law would be amended to prohibit school psychologists from giving IQ tests, because they didn't know what they were doing and couldn't properly interpret the results of the tests they gave.Other research the Commission relied upon showed that there was no cognizable difference between kids who had been classified as "learning disabled" and kids who simply hadn't been taught how to read.Which is a nice way of saying that the special education evaluation and classification system is incompetent to tell if a child really has a disability or is what I call "schooling-disabled."Many experts will say this outright, in private:in public, they're far more circumspect. Partly because they'd lose their jobs, or clients, if they were forthright.I believe the kids deserve better than being at the mercy of an industry whom people are afraid to offend, so I up and say these things flat out.And I earn no income from the special education industry, so I'm relatively free to call things the way they are.

I have a BA in Psychology, and attended many high level professional conferences where neuroscientists, psychiatrists and other researchers presented over the years.It was a rare thing for me to attend an IEP Team meeting where anyone from the district knew more about psychology, learning, and behavior than I did – and believe me, that's not saying much.And when it came to kids' particular disabilities ... it was not, and is not, uncommon for a parent to provide speducators with sophisticated professional literature about the disability, and what works with it, only to find that the literature has never been read.

A different way to look at the issue of educating severely disabled kids is to ask what would happen if the parents of disabled kids were just allowed to stop paying school taxes because the schools didn't want to educate their kids properly, or at all.It's just 12% of all kids' families ... and 12% or so of all school taxes ...

3) Many, not all, but many teachers are resistant to working with students with exceptionalities. They see them as "inappropriately placed " and demanding inordinate amounts of attention. What is a teacher to do?

Most teachers aren't taught how to differentiate instruction so they can meet the individual needs of each of the "regular" students in their classes, and sadly, many teachers wouldn't do this if they were taught how.American schools teach groups, not individuals.So it's not shocking to see that general education teachers don't know how to individualize instruction for kids with disabilities.Special ed teachers don't, either.And as for kids who have very high IQ's ... .Believe me, it's not just the individual needs of kids with disabilities which the education industry claims can't be met.Public schools aim to teach at the average – and pretty much accept that half their students' learning will always be below average.

At the same time, there are virtually no graduate schools of education which thoroughly train their students in even one research-validated methodology or program of behavior management or modification:a large number of general education teachers don't know how to do competent behavior management for their "normal" students.So when it comes to doing anything different, or special, for kids with disabilities – well, first train the teachers in how to handle "normal" behavior issues effectively and humanely; then we can talk about what else teachers would need, if anything, to handle kids with disabilities.Turns out, the principles are the same.If you read the research.Which schools don't.

4) The Special Education process consumes, as you know, vast amounts of time and a gargantuan amount of paper. What seems to be going wrong?

Let's just say that when you have a group of really expert, high-level professionals who conference with a child-client's parents about their proposed course of treatment for the child, or a program of rehabilitation, you don't get the kinds of paper morasses and time wasting that you do in the special ed arena.You also don't get the conflicts.So all I can say is that if the "medical model" produces good results and doesn't waste incredible amounts of time and paper, and the "educational model" does ... then you should probably junk the "educational model" and substitute something which demonstrably works better.Much better.

Most special ed. procedures and processes are empty, meaningless and worthless because they presume expertise and good will on all sides.And that's just not what the special ed game is about.It's about administrators who plan from the top down, well in advance of knowing any individual child's needs for the coming school year,and then who try to push kids with disabilities into the pre-planned boxes they've been given the budget for.

5) Are there certain problems that seem to continually rear their heads?

Abuse of kids with disabilities in schools, and sexual molestation of kids with disabilities in schools are two very serious and pervasive problems which absolutely nobody in the education or speducation industries' leadership wants to admit exist, much less do anything about.It's a very "see no evil ... and nobody's gonna make us, goddammit!" kind of situation.

As more disabled kids are in schools, and as the education industry does not see fit to require that staff who deal with these kids get highly-knowledged and trained, you get the same kinds of abusive treatment of children with disabilities as you find in the old large institutional settings which have under-knowledged and under-trained staff.Many speducators are well-intentioned, but they simply do not have the expertise to deal with kids who have behavior problems.So they get physical and ... the kids get hurt, sometimes very badly.The laws which protect persons with disabilities in institutional and residential facilities from abuse are just beginning to be applied to the same people when they attend schools.Just beginning.

Many of the things routinely done to disabled kids in public schools would be flatly illegal if done to the same kids in institutions.Deinstitutionalization and least restrictive environment mantras have transferred the kids, but not their protections from abuse.Yet.So you get flat out abusive conduct in schools, but speducrats call it "behavioral interventions."Well, locking a kid into a closet is abuse, and it doesn't matter if you call it locking a kid into a closet or placing the child in a "time out room."

The sexual molestation problem, which is quite pervasive, happens for several different kinds of reasons.One – predators know that many kids with disabilities can't communicate what's been done to them, or won't be believed if they can.Secondly, while the Individualized Education Plans (IEP's) of many kids with disabilities "mandate" substantial extra adult supervision, administrators and staff don't take these "mandates" very seriously.So very vulnerable kids are left unsupervised a great deal of the time, IEP's notwithstanding.And predatory adults, or other students, have free reign.Thirdly – and this is very, very unfortunate – some people and, apparently, some agencies, don't actually appear to care about disabled students being molested, and don't do a thing to stop it when it is brought to their attention.

An outside consultant's report I saw for the New York State School for the Blind, directly operated by the NYS Education Department, showed that rape and molestation of the profoundly disabled students there was widespread.The consultant recommended that School staff should patrol the dorms at night instead of hanging out together in the staff lounge.A couple of years later, the School's Physician resigned because of a cover up of an on-campus molestation.His resignation letter was addressed to Richard Mills, NYSED's Commissioner.A year after that, an outside inspection report described what experts tell me was most likely an ongoing sexual molestation of a severely disabled student in an "unexplained and uninvestigated" bruises and injuries section.In the scandal which followed release of that inspection report, Mills claimed that the School's superintendent hadn't reported the institution's problems to headquarters.

Suuure!

To top it off, NYSED recently was forced to make public its system for weighting school crimes and violent incidents under the "persistently dangerous schools" provisions of No Child Left Behind.And sure enough – NYSED "counts" rape of severely disabled student as being worth 45 points, while rape of a "normal" student is worth 60 points.So rape of a very disabled, vulnerable kid is worth 3/4ths of what rape of a kid who doesn't have a disability is worth to these educrats.

I guess that's a very weird sort of progress.In 1787, the Constitutional Congress adopted what was called the Three-Fifths Compromise, which "counted" slaves, i.e., African Americans, as being worth 60% of a free (i.e., white) person.NYSED counts rape of a severely disabled student as being worth 75% of what rape of a non-disabled kid is worth.Seventy-five % is more than 60%, so ... that's progress, right?

Not to let USDOE's OSEP off the hook, although it knows full well that kids with disabilities are being molested in schools all over the country, it has done exactly nothing about it.Not one thing.Nothing. Nada.So I guess there's plenty of blame around to share.

6) Are there better solutions for student with autism, children who are both deaf and blind and students who are non verbal, non ambulatory and not toilet trained?

The better solution for such kids is to have the highly competent professionals from the non-school world who are thoroughly versed in the educational and remedial methodologies and programs which research shows are effective for such children come into schools and supervise these kids' school experiences.Maybe I've just had too many private, or off-the-record conversations with real experts in non-education fields who work with profoundly disabled kids.Publicly, they're afraid to say what they think.Privately ... they pull their hair out at the ignorance of their clients' school special education staff:pretty much all of them have horrific stories to tell about how speducation "experts," who knew absolutely nothing about the kids' disabilities, simply ignored what these experts had told them.And harmed the kids.As though they were speaking to the school folk in tongues.

I don't see a problem with being "non-ambulatory."Stephen Hawking has been "non-ambulatory" for a good many years.So is Judy Heumann, ex-head of OSEP.I shudder to think what would happen – what is happening to many bright but physically very disabled kids – if Hawking was forced to attend a public school.And you have special educators tell you all the time that a student can't have a disability and also be intellectually gifted.

The research shows that there are highly effective methodologies and programs of education and remediation, habilitation and rehabilitation for kids with very, very severe disabilities.There's no reason why, if these were used, the vast majority of these kids couldn't be "included" in regular schools, and no reason they shouldn't be.American publicly-operated schools don't, for the most part, use these methodologies or programs.Many kids with autism can, with appropriate programs and highly trained staff, function at grade level and get along fine with their peers and teachers. Ivar Lovaas' ABA program helped about half of its autistic clients improve so much that they were able to start school without being classified as disabled at all.

Yet you just don't see any kind of substantive, objectively-measured improvement for kids with severe disabilities in public special education programs.For that matter, the longitudinal studies USDOE has funded show that kids with mild disabilities don't make significant objective progress either.Go to the private sector and - hey, presto!The same seriously disabled kids make progress and many can progress to the point where they can have happy, productive lives; some can be independent.There's no reason why the vast majority of kids labelled "learning disabled" shouldn't be able to do work at grade level, and be declassified, after a few years of effective special ed programs and services.Doing this can be expensive:not doing it is much, much more so.But the public schools don't pay the bills for when disabled kids enter the real world, can't work and support themselves, and wind up on public welfare programs for the rest of their lives.If they did ...

What the recent Reading First scandals have shown us is that the education industry as a whole is so intensely averse to actually adopting research-validated methodologies and programs of reading instruction that you should assume that all federally-funded initiatives which require this are doomed to failure.Unless USDOE gets tough and says "my way or the highway."Which it won't.The education industry's lobbyists are just too pervasive.

When it comes to special education, USDOE's Office of Special Education Programs exists, functionally speaking, solely to write checks to state ed. depts. and university researchers.They gave NYSED a multi-year, multi-million dollar State Improvement Grant five years ago which had two simple goals:decrease the gap in scores between kids with and without disabilities, and decrease the over-representation of minorities in special ed in New York.The SIG grant program was supposed to get all kinds of special educators in NYS trained and fluent in research-based methodologies and programs.All kinds of "networks" were set up; all kinds of meetings and consultations were held, and you've never seen so many meaningless flow charts in your life.And the water all flowed ... down, most likely to the basement.

The outside evaluation of this SIG grant project showed that it was an abysmal failure.No decrease in the score gap; no decrease in the over-representation of minorities in special education.What did OSEP do about this flagrant waste of federal tax dollars?Why, it scheduled the NYSED official in charge of this SIGnal failure to present to all SIG project coordinators at its national SIG conference about NYSED's wonderful SIG plans for the future.And, of course, it gave NYSED an even larger new multi-year, multi-million dollar SIG grant to waste than it had before.

Oops!Did anyone make NYSED sit down and debrief?As in "Why did what we did completely fail; what must we change, and what mistakes should we avoid making next time?"No way!

As long as you have that kind of anti-accountability mentality at OSEP, you'll never have public special ed programs that are particularly effective for any group of kids with disabilities, whether mild, moderate or severe.I have been often quoted as saying that OSEP should just be abolished and replaced by an automatic check-writing machine over at the Treasury.As long as it keeps funding SEA's that obviously waste stupendous amounts of federal money – and precious children's lives – I'll keep saying it.Maybe some day, someone will listen.Who knows?I could wind up being a prophet in my own time.Wouldn't that be special?

7) On-line I.E.P.'s seem to be increasingly problematic. What have you found?

On-line IEP's are used for various purposes.One is to make it easier for schools and districts to report special ed information to their SEA's.Nobody ever verifies what they report, so this winds up saving a lot of time and effort and makes schools and districts look like they're complying with federal and state special ed laws when they're not.The other name for this process is GIGO (garbage in: garbage out).

Another use of on line IEP's is so the schools and districts can more easily do routinized fraudulent Medicaid claiming for services allegedly provided to Medicaid-eligible kids with disabilities.HHS OIG audits have tried to verify these claims and – no surprise – have found a staggering amount of sheer, intentional fraud.NYSED got caught doing that, bigtime, by the HHS OIG a few years ago. NYSED administrators actually advised districts to falsify IEP's to "support" fraudulent Medicaid claims for transportation.Nobody at NYSED was prosecuted, so ... .I've heard knowledgeable estimates that as much as 90% of the $2 billion Medicaid paid for school claims in 2005 was for claims which were undocumentable and most likely "bad."If it really did turn out that 90% of all school Medicaid reimbursement claims were bad, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised.

A third use of on line IEPs is so that different versions of the same student's IEP can be handed out to various different audiences.The parent gets one, which often shows everything the district wants the parent to think is going to be provided or done.Another version goes to teachers, which often omits the things that the teachers or their unions don't want teachers to have to do, such as providing mainstream classroom modifications and accommodations.

The on line IEP programs have canned goals and objectives which staff can pick and choose from.All of the major canned IEP applications allow genuinely individualized goals to be created and inserted into IEP's, but it's extremely common for school folk to tell parents that this can't be done - and then refuse to do it. Many districts don't even train IEP Teams in how to do it.So you get "individualized" IEP's with goals taken from "goal banks" which have been customized for each district.And districts actually get to choose which goals they want to allow to be in their students' IEPs this way.

Occasionally, a litigator gets a whole school or district's IEPs and it turns out that all the "Individualized" Education Plans for kids with learning disabilities say exactly the same thing.Sometimes the districts forgets to change things, and a parent gets an IEP with another child's name in it.

I've had a lot of parental and attorney complaints regarding falsified IEP's produced by on line IEP programs.A common complaint arises when the parent refused to sign the IEP because s/he didn't agree with it; then someone from the district typed the parent's name into the on line form and, voila!A fully "signed" IEP.One on line IEP I heard about recently was printed out and produced at a hearing, with the parent's name typed in:the district claimed that the parent actually signed the IEP at some meeting because s/he agreed with it at that time.Another common fraud is that names of people who were not at the meeting, and who did not participate by phone or any other way in the deliberations, suddenly turn up on the computerized list of attendees.This happens a lot when the software application is also used to generate Medicaid claims for things allegedly done at certain kinds of IEP meetings - when a number of persons were "required" to be in attendance.A lot of these "targeted case management" IEP meetings Medicaid gets billed for just never took place at all.

Prosecutors have been loathe to prosecute school speducrats for forging parents' names, or for blatantly falsifying mandated special ed paperwork.We at the SpecialEducationMuckraker.com are working on that issue and hope it will change.The last time I did an on-line survey of special ed paperwork falsification, it turned out that a full 20% of parents, attorneys, advocates and current and former special educators said they had seen falsified special ed papers.Everything from forgeries through "evaluation reports" of evaluations which had never been conducted.And the special ed folk who replied to the survey uniformly reported that when the notified their district administrations or SEA officials about the falsifications and forgeries, they were retaliated against for complaining:nothing was done to stop the criminal falsifications of government records from continuing, unchecked.

An awful lot of special ed-related paperwork is sheer fiction. That's why many special ed organizations, attorneys and advocates advise parents to routinely tape IEP Team meetings.So they can show that the IEP's allegedly created from agreements folks supposedly came to at these meetings are rampantly inaccurate – at best.On line special ed programs just make the falsifications far easier to do.

8) Many school systems plod along, and do not seem to be concerned about law suits and the like. What is operative here?

School folk rarely get sued personally for their special ed negligence or abuse. In some states they pretty much have total immunity.So it's just the school entity being sued, for starters, and school folks tend to not worry about some parent winning and taking possession of their district's headquarters building.Then, also, many SEA's strive heroically to protect their special ed folks from being held accountable for what they do to disabled kids, no matter how awful it may be.

For example – and this is really incredible – NYSED actually passed regulations in June 2006 authorizing anyone in any NYS public school and State-approved private school to "strangle," or "hurl," a disabled student, as well as authorizing the withholding of necessary food, clothing and shelter as "aversive behavioral interventions."The "strangling," "hurling" and some (but not all) of the withholding food, clothing and shelter were just removed from NY's authorized special ed practices two weeks ago as a result of total public outrage.Other highly abusive, inhumane, ineffective and obviously illegal behavior control methods are still authorized and proper in NY schools – as far as NYSED is concerned, that is. Whether federal courts and various federal agencies will go along with this is another question.

Now, let's get real.What kind of state government civil administrative agency like NYSED has the authority to make "strangling" a disabled child – strangling any child – legal and proper?There is just no way this could happen.Strangling is a felony and even the NYS Education Department, in its wildest dreams, couldn't be idiotic enough to believe that an administrative regulation could make a terrible felony legal.

Obviously, some school special ed staffer just lost it and got a disabled kid in a choke hold – and is, or will be sued for doing so.I don't know about the "strangling" case for sure - yet.I do know of a hurling case in Upstate New York, where another spedexpert lost it - threw a disabled kid into a wall; then threw the kid down on the floor, and then kneed the kid in the kidneys.The kid suffered serious internal injuries and bleeding.The "withholding clothing" and "withholding shelter" in NYSED's authorized aversive behavioral intervention regulations came from a recent case where a county special education co-op's special ed "expert" teacher put a young kid outside, without shoes or jacket in the winter, as punishment for some minor infraction.It's a wonder the kid didn't lose toes from frostbite.The teacher, of course, lost nothing.Not salary, not her job, nothing.Just received counseling about expectations.

Having clearly abusive acts included in NYSED's aversive behavioral intervention regulations would allow the outfits being sued for the "strangling," "hurling" and withholding clothing and shelter to interpose as a defense the "fact" that strangling, hurling and withholding food, clothing, shelter, etc. were generally accepted practices in the NY expert special education community, which is why they are in the official State regulations, fer gods' sake! - and thus are not actionable.That's why NYSED put these horrific things into its regulations.To protect educational institutions and staff from losing law suits they faced for doing these vile things to children. Certainly not to protect children.Now, schools and districts in NYS know for sure that no matter how abusively and inhumanely they treat their disabled students, NYSED will be there for them in any way that it can.So they feel empowered to be even more abusive and feel no need whatsoever to get staff trained to the point where abusive practices are not "needed."Since these regulations got started, reports of NY schools' abusive "interventions" are becoming far more widespread.

Finally, special ed is the last stranglehold of non-accountability.Nobody except the HHS Inspector General, and certainly not USDOE, really audits any part of special ed finances, claimed expenditures, or programs.The federal government hasn't told districts' outside auditors to do so, either.OMB could, but hasn't.The speducation industry fights being held accountable for special ed results like mad.You can be sure that removing accountability for the NCLB "students with disabilities" sub group is goal number one of the education lobbyist industry.Where you have no fiscal accountability and no outcomes accountability, you can be sure that you have an industry with a "we're not accountable to anyone" mind set.

So they do something flagrantly wrong and a parent complaints.Then they tell the parent that "if you don't like it, go sue me."

9) What are you personally trying to accomplish?

Well, at this point, I confess that I've almost given up on getting the speducation industry to adopt research-validated methods and programs of instruction, remediation, behavior management or behavior modification.The insiders behind the IDEA reauthorization and amendments of 2004 certainly did, which is why they concentrated on keeping kids out of special ed in the first place.Who am I to argue with experts who know their own industry so well?

So it's down to:

A) getting parents, by whatever means necessary, the right to choose where their kids will receive education, special education and related services, and avoid incompetence and abuse.

Before I got into the special ed arena, I was a profound, wholehearted supporter of the public schools.I even lead the parents group which started the first new self-contained public school program for exceptionally gifted kids in the NYC Bd. of Ed. in about 30 years.It's called The Anderson Program for Exceptionally Gifted Children, at PS 9 in Manhattan, and I'm very proud to say that nearly two decades later, it's expanded and still going strong.

My husband and I once sat down and figured out how much we had spent on helping get Anderson started, and then to keep it going when the district tried to financially starve the program to death.I mean - the kids were forced to sit on wooden chairs with seats so decrepit that the kids were getting gashes on their thighs.It came out to over $20,000, right out of our pockets.That was in 1985; I'm not sure what that would be in 2007 dollars.And we turned down an offer of a full scholarship at a very prestigious private school which a neighbor, who chaired a department there, offered our son when he was 3, so that our son could attend a public school.These days, I'd take the scholarship without a second thought.I try to learn from my mistakes.

Parents of kids with disabilities are often treated extremely offensively by public school speducators.Sometimes listening to tapes of these meetings makes my toes just curl.The ones who are treated the worst, of course, are the ones who have advanced degrees in special ed. or related areas – psychology, psychiatry, etc.You couldn't believe the stories these parents tell!

I don't see that it's right to force parents to send their disabled kids to schools where they're mal-educated, if educated at all, and often treated abusively or inhumanely, and in which staff feel they are authorized to ignore or reject all input from the children's outside treating experts.It's heartbreaking to be the parent of a child with a disability to begin with.Then, to see people who claim to be experts, and who often know absolutely nothing about their children's disabilities, treat the kids roughly, embarrass or humiliate them, fail to educate them, and then blame it on the kids ... or the parents ... .Let's just say that it's more than a lot of parents can bear.Which is why the number of parents of disabled kids who are home-schooling has soared exponentially in the past five years or so.I predict this trend will continue, and grow markedly, in the next five years.So will moves to restrict home schooling.Because schools are starting to lose money due to home schooled kids with disabilities.

On the other hand, I don't see that it's right to force parents of any kids to send them to incompetent public schools.So I'm a big proponent of school choice, charters, and vouchers.And until speducators are forced to live with disabled kids in non-school hours, and see the results of what they do during the day – the tears, the heartbreak, and sometimes the bruises ... I'll keep on pushing for parental choice any way that I can.

B) I personally detest people who steal money meant to educate children, and I have it in the most for people who steal money meant to educate children with disabilities.So I work very hard, and I have a network of professionals and parents across the country who are part of this effort, to unearth special ed corruption in every way possible.

Every serious audit I've seen in the last 20 years which looked in depth at special ed reported expenditures of one kind or another turned up ferocious fiscal improprieties.Usually, after one such audit is made public, the agency or office that did the audit gets so much flack that they stop doing special ed audits. Happened in NYC around 1994.When was the last time the US DOE's OIG did a serious, in-depth audit of special ed. expenditures and student-related data?The OIG's 2000-2002 audits of special ed dropout/graduation data from a few SEA's have been ... rewritten? ... to take out the really tough bits. They showed that the real special ed dropout rate was far, far higher than reported.If anyone cares, let me know and I'll dig through my archives to find the unexpurgated originals.They were whoppers!Of course, this group of audits was never replicated and the USDOE OIG has done no serious IDEA-related audits since back then.

I have a sad-funny story re this which folks might find illustrative.

OSEP set up the private Center for Special Ed. Finance (CSEF) to do a series of Special Ed Expenditure Project (SEEP studies) on national special ed finance issues.This was how we learned that when you give states more money for special ed, they give it to districts, which use the money to classify more kids as disabled instead of improving the programs for the already-classified kids.

Well, a few SEA's, including NYSED, then commissioned state-specific SEEP studies to deal with various kinds of local issues.All the other SEEP studies mentioned on the CSEF web site were made available through that web site except NYSED's.CSEF told me that NYSED refused to authorize its release.So I asked a NY legislator to get it for me, which he was kind enough to do, over NYSED's ferocious objections.In fact, I was told that NYSED refused to release the study to the Chair of the NYS Assembly Education Committee unless it was allowed to staple its rebuttal to the cover of the study.We all had a good laugh about that one.

What the study showed – and this is no joke! – was that NY actually spent $6 billion less on special ed than NYSED reported was spent during the period of the study.This is not a typo – it's 6 billion, with a "b," not million with an "m."The report's authors noted that an excessive amount was spent on NY segregated special ed classes, programs and placements, and that mainstream special ed supports and services were so under-funded that the effectiveness of these programs was clearly in doubt.

What happened as a result of this study?

1.OSEP conducted a "verification" visit to NYSED after being informed about the SEEP study's results.Thereafter, OSEP-istas wrote specifically that it did not verify any district's special ed data – neither fiscal nor student-related when it "verified" NYSED's IDEA reports and functioning.Talk about a cover up!Why did OSEP bother to come to New York at all?For the bagels?

2.At a public hearing, NYSED's Regent Merryl Tisch asked me if she could borrow my copy of this study.I agreed.It hasn't been returned yet.Classified?

3.USDOE's OIG then audited NYSED's NCLB-related programs, including Title 1, and found that NYSED itself had engaged in serious fraud to keep Title 1 funds flowing to districts which shouldn't have gotten one red cent.One district's Title 1 program was found to be "unauditable" by the OIG. Then the OIG audited NYSED's Reading First program and found that NYSED had engaged in incredible improprieties to give districts Reading First grants when they should have just been shown the door.

4.The outside audit of New York State reported that NYSED verified nothing any district submitted to it re Title 1 and re IDEA.The USDOE put NYSED under the strictest scrutiny re its Title 1 and related programs.Has the USDOE's OIG audited NYSED's special ed programs?No. (Nor any other SEA's IDEA programs, for that matter.Too ... hot.)OSEP just keeps sending those checks.Whether you think that $6 billion is a lot of money, or whether you think that it's important to insure that those who get paid for schooling disabled kids do the job they're supposed to do, and don't steal the money ...

So a network of NY parents, advocates, attorneys and disability-related organizations has been working very hard to collect all kinds of information regarding what are obviously criminal acts in the NY special ed industry, and ... fingers crossed!

10) What question have I neglected to ask?

Well, you could ask "What's your favorite saying?"

My favorite saying is "Information wants to be free."A vast amount of special ed-related information is withheld from the public, from parents, and from scholars.We at the SpecialEducationMuckraker.com believe that nothing about children's educations, and especially the education of children with disabilities, should be decided behind closed doors, or under some rock, and certainly shouldn't be classified.Yet journalists and researchers all across the country report that their Freedom of Information requests for large-scale special ed data get stonewalled to the nth degree.The "secret" is horrific results despite huge amounts of monies spent.Not spent wisely; just ... spent.When an industry such as the special ed industry withholds the vast majority of the data it clearly has available and at hand, you've just got to know there's something the folks who run the industry want to hide.

Most recently, I managed, after intense effort and numerous official evasions, to dig out numbers tending to show that OSEP's spin on how so many more kids with disabilities are graduating these days - and thus how much the special ed dropout rate has decreased - is pretty much smoke and mirrors.Fifty-two percent of the high school-age kids with disabilities who stopped attending school in the 2004-2005 school year were reported by their districts, and then by their SEA's, in the "moved, known to continue" category.Now – nobody, but nobody ever audits to verify that these kids have actually re-enrolled in some other school or district.When the USDOE OIG started to do so in 2000, it found that kids reported in this category were mostly really dropouts.So ... it stopped doing these audits.New York's percentage of high school disabled kids who allegedly stopped going to school 'cause they "moved" and then started somewhere else was a whopping 58%!(And only 38% of the group who stopped attending their schools actually did so by graduating.)

If you believe these numbers – and I don't think anyone who cares about children should do so for a moment – then I think that all you can do is scratch your head and ask how in the world has the American speducation industry been allowed to created a new category of disability, which I call "Move-itis"?Because the Census' Household Mobility Reports show that only a really tiny fraction of all people in the United States who move every year move any great distance away from where they started. The vast majority of kids whose families move should still be attending the same school after the move as they did before.According to the official OSEP numbers, kids with disabilities move great distances maybe 50 times more frequently than do their non-disabled peers, or than any other population group except migrant workers, for that matter.

So it's not surprising that OSEP gave me a hard time getting these numbers and it's not surprising that NYSED wouldn't produce them at my request at all.There's a great deal more "classified" special ed data that wants to be free, but those who would be embarrassed by its release hold on very, very tight to it.

It's time for a change.Transparency should be the rule, not the very rarest exception.

11) How exactly can we get a copy of the Special Education Muckraker?

Log on to our web site at http://www.specialeducationmuckraker.com and check out what's new.

At some point, someone will give me some good, free software that we can use to set up some kind of formalized e-mail circulation or distribution system, in which case we'll really do subscriptions.

They'll be free.

Thursday

January 25th, 2007

Michael F. Shaughnessy

Senior Columnist EducationNews.org

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