menu search recent posts
December 5, 2011 standard



Percentage of learning disabled students aged 16-21 exiting special education in 2009-2010 who graduated with a diploma, according to Dropout Nation‘s analysis of U.S. Department of Education data — or a mere 256,000 American children. That’s lower than the nation’s overall four-year graduation rate of 70 percent.


The percentage of 16-to-21 year olds leaving special ed for regular education programs. While 31 percent of kids with speech impediments transferred into regular ed, a mere 6 percent of students labeled with either a specific learning disability, emotional disturbance, or hearing impairment, and just 2 percent of those labeled mentally retarded did so.


The percentage of 14- and 15-year-old special ed students exiting for regular education. While 67 percent of 14- and 15-year-olds with speech and language impediments transferred to regular ed, only 25 percent of kids labeled as having specific learning disabilities and an abysmal 13 percent of those labeled as being emotionally disturbed did so. And only 3 percent of 14 and 15 year olds with hearing impairments transferred into regular ed.


Percentage of 16-to-21 year olds labeled mentally retarded exiting special education with a high school diploma.


Percentage of students labeled with a speech or language impairment aged 16-to-21 leaving special ed with a diploma.


Percentage of 16-to-21 year olds labeled as having a specific learning disability who graduated with a diploma.


Percentage of 16-to-21 year olds with a hearing impairment leaving special ed with a high school diploma.


Percentage of 16-to-21 year olds labeled emotionally disturbed exiting special education with a high school diploma.


Special education is one of the academic ghettos of American public education — and one of the most pernicious. While the number of students relegated to special ed has declined slightly in recent years, the number of kids labeled increased by 63 percent between 1976 and 2006. And with boys making up two out of every three students in special ed, far too many of our sons — regardless of race, ethnicity, or class — are being diagnosed with learning disabilities when they really need intensive reading remediation and school environments in which they can thrive.

Thanks to abysmal reading instruction, the lack of strong reading interventions in the early grades, and the unwillingness of American public education to deal with kids who are either struggling or considered troublesome, far too many kids are sent to special ed. And thanks to the low expectations for these kids — including those who have real hearing and speech impairments who can succeed in regular environments — they get even lower quality instruction and curricula.  As the following numbers show, special education equals being condemned to academic failure. This form of educational neglect and malpractice must stop.

December 1, 2010 standard

Segregation is no longer the problem. But holding American public education accountable still is.

If you believe that education is the most-important civil rights issue of this era, you must also demand that every school and district is held accountable for improving the instruction, curricula and expectations it provides for every child. It is just that simple. After all, the history of American public education is one in which poor and minority children — be they black kids in the Jim Crow South to poor immigrant families whose parents were recent arrivals to this nation’s shores — have been shortchanged of a high-quality education.

Yet the discussion among school reformers and defenders of the status quo these days is not about expanding the level of accountability, but about letting more schools (if not all of them) off the hook for continuing to fail the very kids they are supposed to educate. From President Barack Obama’s blueprint for reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act — which would essentially ditch AYP for more-amorphous “college and career readiness” provisions — to incoming House Education and Labor Committee Chairman John Kline’s plans to gut accountability altogether to even the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s supposed “Reform Realism” (a term that is as wonky as it is Kissingeresque), it’s all about talking the talk and not bothering to walk the walk. And the justifications for doing so aren’t worth the reams of paper upon which they are written.

There’s the argument that current accountability measures allow for too much gamesmanship by states and school districts to avoid the spotlight of accountability. But oddly enough, they fail to realize that the gamesmanship has actually helped school reformers shed light on the practices that have led to systemic academic failure and continuous mediocrity. Without AYP, we would not be able to compare state curriculum standards and proficiency cut scores to the National Assessment of Educational Progress or international tests such as TIMSS and PIRLS — and thus have concrete evidence that the education provided to our children overall is, on average, substandard and atrocious. The investigative power that AYP has provided to researchers, reporters and activists cannot be understated.

Then there’s the argument that AYP and other accountability provisions penalize far too many schools, that it labels schools that are supposedly performing well as failing. This point would be valid if not for the fact that they leave one part of the sentence out: That the schools are falling under scrutiny because they are failing to provide high-quality education to poor and minority children (along with those who are labeled special ed and learning disabled). This reality remains as true as ever. Whether it is Montgomery County, Maryland or Carmel, Indiana, there are still far too many suburban schools systems that are comfortable with continuing educational neglect and malpractice.

The argument that AYP ends up miring schools in bureaucratic compliance activity would only be valid if this was not a pre-existing condition of public education. The reality is that, if anything, districts and states have received federal funding for far too long without having to provide an accounting for outcomes.  Whether you are a conservative, a progressive or a small-l libertarian with a social conscious, accountability is what we must require of schools that spend more than $486 billion a year.

All this said, accountability must be more-expansive. It cannot just focus on Title I schools and it must involve more than just test score growth. One step that can be taken is easy to do: Elevate graduation rate data — the ultimate sign of academic success — to the same primary status as test score data and require states and school districts to break down the data by subgroup.

Accountability must also shed light on the various acts of educational malpractice and antiquated rituals that have done little more than assure that millions of children will either drop out or leave school unprepared for success outside of the schoolhouse doors. Evidence has shown that special ed is one of the academic ghettos of American public education. Far too many young men — black, white, Latino and Asian — are being diagnosed with learning disabilities when they really need intensive reading remediation and school environments in which they can thrive. The number of kids being relegated to special ed and spending more than 60 percent of their time outside of regular classrooms — already collected by local, state and federal education agencies — should be part of any AYP measurement.

We also know that alternative high schools are also used by districts as way-stations for students on the way to dropping out. Accountability must include ensuring that the curricula in those schools meet the same high levels of rigor and of high quality that we are demanding of our traditional high schools. The schools within juvenile prisons and jails must also come under scrutiny; at this moment, they are afterthoughts in school reform (when they aren’t forgotten altogether).

Accountability must also include holding teachers, principals and superintendents responsible for laggard student achievement and rewarding them for doing what it takes to foster a culture of genius within their schools. This means publicly releasing value-added evaluations of teacher performance — which is opposed, naturally, by the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers — and similar longitudinal data for schools and administrators. If value-added can be used in research, then it should be used in accountability. It also means shutting down dropout factories and academic failure mills, which perpetuate cultures of mediocrity that essentially relegate our poorest kids to shoddy teaching, and providing kids with options — yes, school choice — that allow them to escape systemic academic failure. On

Accountability isn’t just a sideshow in reforming American public education, it is the most-critical element of providing the equality of opportunity in education we say every child deserves.

February 11, 2010 standard

Photo courtesy of Fallbrook Bonsall Village News

A few things to ponder as the snow melts:

  1. When will Centrist and left-leaning Democrat school reformers not named Anthony Williams or Marion Barry embrace vouchers as zealously as they support charter schools? After all, both promote choice and improved educational opportunities for poor students — and place public dollars into private hands. And given the research gleaned from the pioneering Milwaukee voucher program, the effectiveness of vouchers is no less proven than that of charters.
  2. Will Denver’s Tom Boasberg be the next crusading reform-minded superintendent in the Michelle Rhee-Joel Klein mold? Reed Hunt’s protege-turned telecom executive-turned school official  is already striking a blow against forced placement of laggard teachers. But can he advance the district’s performance pay plan and take it up several notches to make it truly effective in driving teacher effectiveness?
  3. Which state will be the next battleground over teachers pensions and retiree benefits? National Education Association affiliates in Vermont, Pennsylvania and New Jersey are already battling to stave off increases in contributions and retirement ages. Could it be Indiana — home to the collapse of the NEA’s Indiana affiliate (and where Gov. Mitch Daniels and Superintendent Tony Bennett are already already advancing a series of reforms)? Or is it nearby Illinois, home to the nation’s biggest teacher pension deficit? Or maybe, Utah?
  4. What is the next step in the debate over charter schools and segregation? It is well-known that Richard Kahlenberg and company are displeased with the role of charters in President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top reforms and likely even more displeased by its role in his proposed reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act and the 2010-2011 budget. Will the reports released by the Civil Rights Project and EPIC be followed up by missives from a few members of the Congressional Black Caucus and other key players on the Hill?
  5. How will Randi Weingarten react to the move by the Houston Independent School District to fully tie student test scores to teacher evaluations? Given her pronounced support last month for such measurements, will she end up siding largely with the district and telling her local to just water it down a little? Or will she back the local’s effort to ditch altogether. Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee are definitely watching this one. So is the NEA and the school reform movement.
  6. And yes, I had to add a sixth: Who will succeed Jack Jennings as head of the Center for Education Policy? More importantly, will it release another report on high school exit exams? The second answer is clearly more apparent than the first.

More burning questions later this week.

February 2, 2010 standard

Young black males need the teaching so they can learn and succeed.

What’s happening in the dropout nation these days:

  1. National Journal is hosting the latest of their weekly questions about education. This week, it is all about whether the No Child Left Behind Act will be reauthorized this year. I have offered my thoughts in this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast.
  2. The president’s budget “freeze” doesn’t include education (of course). Education research also fairs well (according to EdWeek), alongside plans to fund charter schools that follow the Harlem Children’s Zone model (notes Tom Marshall). The Department of Education offers up its series of justifications for its spending priorities.
  3. What role does school choice play in housing prices. Eric Bruner and his colleagues say that choice-based enrollment policies across all school districts (inter-district) and within them can bring home price and income stability to surrounding neighborhoods. Which may prove the value of school choice of all kinds public and private.
  4. Meanwhile in D.C., schools boss Michelle Rhee isn’t exactly polling well, at least according to Bill Turque and Jon Cohen at the Washington Post. Some of it, of course, has to do with Rhee’s PR gaffes and general demeanor. But let’s get real: It is also about some more-unmentionable matters and also about the fact that Rhee is ending D.C. Public Schools’ role as the District’s jobs program and patronage system. This isn’t going to make the adults happy (even if it helps improve the educational opportunities of the kids who actually have to sit in the district’s classrooms).
  5. Jay Mathews, of course, makes no secret of his opinion of Rhee. Whether he thinks she’ll last beyond her current term? He’s not so sure. My opinion: It will depend on whether Adrian Fenty — just as unpopular as Rhee for reasons of his own creation — doesn’t draw strong primary and general election opposition. If he doesn’t, Rhee stays. But if he does…
  6. In Southern California, L.A. Unified’s school choice reform is mired in squabbling, with accusations of  favoritism being tossed around by the district’s AFT local, according to the L.A. Daily News. Meanwhile the L.A. Times editorial board is disappointed by all the other problems emerging from the districts handling of the bidding process for the 30 schools offered for the first round of reform.
  7. John Fensterwald notes a recent report on school district finances within the Golden State. Federal stimulus funds may have staved off fiscal belt-tightening for now, according to Fensterwald, but those funds are running out — which means more thoughtful approaches to operations.
  8. In New York City, the local NAACP sues the city’s Department of Education over its shutdown of failing schools, according to Gothamist. As usual, NAACP attempts to strike a blow over the wrong issue — and failing black children in the process.
  9. EducationNews re-runs one of Martin Haberman’s fine pieces on how to train teachers for urban school settings. Enjoy.
  10. In Education Leadership, Eric Sparks, Janet L. Johnson and Patrick Ackos discuss using data in determining which students are at risk for dropping out. They look at 9th-grade performance. But they fail to mention Robert Balfanz’s innovative work in the early dropout indicators arena.
  11. What is dropout nation: Tiny Schuylkill County, Pa., which has high levels of high school dropouts, according to a study cited in the Standard Speaker. The source of the data, Census sampling, may be unreliable for actually measuring the number of dropouts and graduates. But it gives some sense of the problems within Pennsylvania’s coal country.
  12. Kevin Carey takes shots at EdWeek for a report on a for-profit college industry study. Certainly, Carey is no fan of University of Phoenix’s of the world for reasons both good and specious. You go figure out where you stand.

And you can check out this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, this on the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. Enjoy.

January 28, 2010 standard

Time to collect her dues. Van Roekel will join her with the collection plates.

What’s happening in the post-State of the Union dropout nation:

  1. Politicians often double-talk their way out of trouble, but President Barack Obama has special reason to do so. Amid Democrat electoral losses — including scandal-tarred Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley’s defeat at the hands of Scott Brown — is stirring fears of widespread losses in November. So Obama is going to play nice with the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. But at what price? Read more in my latest analysis in The American Spectator.
  2. At Flypaper, Smooth Mike offers his own thoughts on last night’s State of the Union address. Unlike Obama (or yours truly), he doesn’t think that education is the best anti-poverty program around. Kevin Carey has different thoughts (of course). Meanwhile Bob Wise of the Alliance for Excellent Education calls for a quick reauthorization of No Child.
  3. Monise Seward considers the problems of dropping out among special ed and ELL students.
  4. The Economist takes a look at higher education spending and California’s peculiar problems in funding it. Should there be more funding? Less? As everyone knows, I’ve written a primer about the issues related to funding.
  5. Tom Vander Ark notes what excites — and displeases — him about Race to the Top and the i3 education technology efforts.
  6. The National Charter School Research Project comes out with its latest annual report on the state of charters. Interesting read.
  7. The latest state applications for the federal stimulus’ State Fiscal Stabilization Fund are now available.
  8. In the Detroit News, the head of the NEA’s Michigan affiliate isn’t too happy with accusations that her union allegedly bullied some districts into not signing onto the Wolverine State’s Race to the Top initiatives. Iris Salters declares that the reform effort is merely “a catchy name.” Except for coming from a traditional education perspective, her argument is no different than that of a few libertarian and conservative reformers who will not be named.
  9. At EducationNews, Michael Shaughnessy interviews school activist Jim Freeman, who gets it right when it comes to overuse of suspensions and expulsions, and wrong when it comes to testing. Once again, perpetuating the myth of high-stakes testing.
  10. Martin Haberman offers some more reasons why many urban districts are failing. He notes that more than half of aspiring teachers taught by university ed school programs never enter the profession. Astounding.
  11. The Dallas Morning News‘ William McKenzie notes the latest NCTQ survey of teacher preparation at the state level. Texas doesn’t come off looking good — especially after Gov. Rick Perry decided to ditch Race to the Top participation.
  12. In Rochester City Paper, the upstate New York city’s mayor’s effort to take control of the district is dissected by Tim Louis Macaluso. Let’s just say Mr. Macaluso isn’t impressed with the mayor’s talking points.

Don’t forget to check out this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, which focuses on the high cost of teacher compensation and tenure for America’s taxpayers — and how it will drive the efforts to revamp how teachers are paid and evaluated. Also read last week’s Dropout Nation articles, including yesterday’s This is Dropout Nation report on Cleveland’s special ed problem.

January 27, 2010 standard

With two of every three of its high school freshmen dropping out before graduation, Cleveland Public Schools is one of the nation’s worst traditional public school systems. But the extent of the district’s academic failure extends beyond its regular classrooms. The district labels far too many of its children — especially young men — as learning disabled and keeps too many of them out of regular instruction. Considering that the “learning disabilities” are mostly issues that don’t prevent them from learning at the same rates as their peers, this means that many Cleveland students are being condemned to dropping out and lives of poverty.

Thirteen-point-five percent of Cleveland’s students in 2006 were labeled as learning disabled, according to the U.S. Department of Education. This is an increase over the 12 percent of students labeled learning disabled in 2000 — even as the district’s population has steadily declined. Even worse, almost all of them — 7,185 out of 7385 special education students — spend 60 percent or more of their school day outside of regular classroom instruction. This is important because special ed students are getting far-less-rigorous instruction than the already-abysmal instruction received by their peers in regular classrooms.

For Cleveland’s male students, being part of special ed is almost a way of life. Nineteen percent of the district’s black male students and 16 percent of their white counterparts are labeled as special ed cases.  This is versus (an almost abysmal) 9.9 percent of black females and 9 percent of white females. Latino male students fare no better, despite their sparse presence: Fourteen percent of Latino males are labeled as either being mentally retarded, emotionally disturbed, stricken with a “specific learning disability” or considered developmentally delayed. Just 8 percent of Latino females are considered special ed cases.

As Cleveland debates a round of school reform measures — including the shutdown of eight local schools — the district and the parents who send their children to its schools should address this widespread condemnation of young children to abysmal education settings. The district’s status as a dropout factory won’t change until it comes to grips with the underlying reasons why so many students are being relegated to the proverbial short buses.