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June 19, 2009
Teach for America moves to Westchester, Queens this fall
Teach for America is moving to the ‘burbs. The program will send 5 to 10 recruits to Westchester County this fall, where they’ll teach in a…
June 18, 2009
Audit: City failed to give timely services to needy children
The Department of Education failed to follow more than 200 orders to give disabled students extra services in a timely fashion, an independent audit released today concludes. The audit was the first-ever comprehensive look at how the city follows through with special education orders. Parents of children with special needs can argue that their children are not receiving enough services at independent hearings where both the parent and the Department of Education testify. Hearing officers either determine that the current services are adequate — or order the city to do more. The audit is a result of a lawsuit filed by the nonprofit group Advocates for Children, which often represents parents in these hearings, in 2003. The lawsuit accused the city of not following through with hearing officers' orders, which range from demanding that children receive extra tutoring to mandating a special program for helping children with autism. An agreement that settled the suit out of court required regular audits of the Department of Education's efforts to improve responses. The audit released today, the first in a series required by the settlement, found that school officials failed to meet a pre-determined goal. If the failure is repeated in follow-up audits, it could send Advocates for Children and the city to court.
June 8, 2009
Special ed advocates wary after news of Harries's departure
Just months after adjusting to the news that a schools official with no special education experience would be reviewing the city's special education offerings, advocates for children with disabilities are now reeling from another shakeup: The news that the official, Garth Harries, is leaving the city. The announcement today came after a months-long "listening tour" intended to teach Harries about the issues facing teachers and families of children with special needs. On the tour, Harries heard from anxious parents who explained from their point of view the nuances of an extremely complicated system. "The special education community has invested a lot of time in bringing Garth up to speed," said Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children of New York (where I used to work). "I hope all that time will not be lost."
June 8, 2009
Garth Harries to leave city for New Haven schools at end of year
Garth Harries The city official who is in the middle of reviewing the city's special education programs will leave New York at the end of the month to take a top job at a Connecticut school system. Garth Harries, a former McKinsey consultant who has worked with Chancellor Joel Klein since 2003, is scheduled to be appointed assistant superintendent by the New Haven Board of Education at a meeting tonight. The mayor of New Haven, John DeStefano, has said he wants to improve the city's public schools in similar ways to Mayor Bloomberg in New York City. Harries' job is to flesh out the specific of how to transform the schools — and implement them, according to the New Haven Register. Harries's new position appears to be similar to the one he held in New York before he took over a review of special education, down to its title, "assistant superintendent for portfolio and performance management." Until January, he headed the DOE's Office of Portfolio Development, where he led efforts to create new schools. Harries called the news "bittersweet" in an e-mail message he sent to special education advocates this morning. He said that New Haven began recruiting him just six weeks ago and said his decision was based in part on the proximity of the job to his wife's farm in Connecticut. Harries has been preparing for some time to take on added responsibilities in school leadership.
May 15, 2009
City's top special ed official will leave at school year's end
The head of the city's special education division has announced that she is stepping down at the end of the school year, a surprise move that comes at a time when a top-to-bottom review of special education is underway. Linda Wernikoff said her decision to retire is not related to the review or the changes its conclusion could bring to her department. "I think I've had a wonderful 35-year career here and I'm very proud of the work that we've done," she told me. "Now I think it's time that I need to try new things." Under Wernikoff's leadership, the Department of Education has focused on reducing the proportion of children who are in special education-only classes, and the graduation rate for students with special needs has inched up, although it still remains quite low. Wernikoff, who began her career in 1974 as a speech teacher, told me she had no specific plans yet for her future, but she said, "Whatever I do will continue to be advocating for students with special needs." People that I spoke to today said Wernikoff's departure will be a blow for the special education community.
February 12, 2009
Facing worried parents, special ed analyst clarifies his role
Weeks after I reported that a Department of Education official steeped in management skills would be evaluating the city’s special education system, parents and…
February 11, 2009
Tonight, D.C.'s Rhee is in town, and Harries meets the advocates
A reader informed me this week that Michelle Rhee, the indomitable D.C. schools chancellor, is speaking at Pace University tonight. “What a hot tip!”…
January 20, 2009
Federal civil rights office OKs DOE's high school admissions rules
When I reported last week about the total review of special education that is set to start soon at the Department of Education, I…
January 16, 2009
DOE reorganization: Fewer officials to report to chancellor
The same person who will lead the Department of Education's review of special education masterminded the internal reorganization that's currently underway at the department. DOE spokesman David Cantor told me Garth Harries, who came to the DOE from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, devised the new organization as a way to make the department more efficient. At a time when cuts to schools and "potentially hundreds of layoffs" are on the horizon, "we had a strong feeling we need to be as efficiently organized as possible," Cantor said. With only a few exceptions, the new organization simply adds a level of reporting between managers and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who until now has had more than 20 DOE officials reporting directly to him, Cantor said. "When the dust settles, there's not really anything that's notably different about it," he said. One place where changes are more substantive is in the Office of Portfolio Development, currently run by Harries, where responsibilities are being dispersed among several different managers.
January 16, 2009
Special ed advocate: Wrong person leading DOE's review
Kim Sweet Special education advocates are planning to criticize the Department of Education's choice of official to spearhead a comprehensive review of special education in the city schools. Kim Sweet, the executive director of Advocates for Children of New York (where I used to work when I wrote for Insideschools), told me this morning that she's worried about what the review could mean for special education services, especially in light of the current economic conditions. One major concern is that Garth Harries, who has been appointed to conduct the review, doesn't have experience in special education. "The special education system is a complex system that to address a diverse and complicated set of student needs," Sweet told me. "Garth Harries unfortunately does not have the experience to make decisions about it in an intelligent and sensitive way." She said the ARISE Coalition, which advocates for children with special needs, will speak out against Harries' appointment. Another issue, Sweet said, is that given the current budget shortfall, the department might be taking a hard look at special education simply to save money.
January 15, 2009
A total review of special education to begin soon at the DOE
Remember that reorganization? Another part of it is that a former McKinsey consultant with no experience in special education is now launching a total review of the Department of Education's special education services. Garth Harries has been tasked with figuring out "how to clear up all the clutter" in the hard-to-navigate special education system as part of the department's ongoing reorganization, which is intended to cut costs, DOE spokesman David Cantor told me. Harries, currently the head of the DOE's Office of Portfolio Development, will begin his new position in a matter of weeks, Cantor said. "He's going to basically try to make our entire provision of special education better, more effective, and more efficient." Harries, who is a lawyer, came to the DOE from McKinsey & Company, the consulting firm. "He does not have credentials in special education," Cantor said. "What he is is an unusually talented analyst and mechanic of large operations." "I think I have a pretty good reputation for effective problem-solving and getting things done and treating people fairly," Harries told me this evening. About special education, he said, "I think it's an area where I can help. I have a lot to learn, obviously."
January 14, 2009
DOE will spend $78.6m in next 5 years on new database
The Department of Education is signing a $54.9 million contract with a firm called MAXIMUS to streamline the way it tracks services for students with disabilities. Right now, a paper system tracks the process of diagnosing and giving services to special education students, with results that both special education advocates and the department say are poor. The new system will allow administrators and teachers to track these documents in a single place online. It will also be costly: The five-year contract is for $54.9, and the DOE expects extra attached costs like internal training programs so that principals can use the database will cost an additional $23.7 million over five years. The DOE press release that went out on this earlier today includes unusually glowing remarks from the special education advocate Kim Sweet, who as the executive director of Advocates for Children has often criticized the DOE for failing to serve special education students adequately Sweet's statement: "The Department of Education desperately needs a new system for tracking special education data. Under the current system they are unable to track their performance in providing essential services ot students with disabilities with any kind of accuracy. A new data system is essential to helping the Departmetn of Education improve its delivery of special education services and, we hope, will be a key step to holding the Department of Education accountable for the education of this vulnerable population." The contract was not a no-bid but was competitively bid. A law firm helped the department negotiate it pro bono. Here's the full press release, below the jump:
December 10, 2008
Can high-achieving students with special needs take AP courses?
Last year, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said he wanted to increase the number of students passing Advanced Placement tests. But for high-achieving kids with special needs, taking AP classes can be near impossible. This week, I talked to a parent about how hard it was for her to find a high school that says it will offer AP classes to her child, a high-achieving eighth-grader who is legally required to be placed in a team-teaching setting. Specifically, this student must be in a Collaborative Team Teaching class, where two teachers, one with special education certification, work with a class made up of some students who have special needs and some who do not. Despite her careful research, the mother told me, it hasn't always been clear which high schools will meet her child's needs. In the high school directory released each year by the DOE, most selective schools say they will offer special education services "as needed." Some schools have reputations for including kids with all kids of special needs in their most challenging courses, but others do not.
December 1, 2008
No team planning time for this team teacher
Ms. T. will be guest-blogging every other week or so here at GothamSchools, sharing her experience of working in a Collaborative Team Teaching classroom. Collaborative Team Teaching (CTT) is when two teachers work in a classroom that is 60% general education students and 40% students with special needs. As a part of a team teaching classroom, I must be a team member. I cannot walk into the classroom and successfully teach with another teacher without planning together successfully. It seems obvious, right? Well, maybe not obvious to all. Our students leave us for a short time daily to enjoy what other teachers have to offer in physical education, art, music, and other "cluster" classes. During this time, when our students are away, my team teacher and I keep on working as a team. This time is vital to the success of our Collaborative Team Teaching classroom, and we use it as completely and efficiently as possible. I can rarely be found without Ms. B, and she’s rarely seen without me. Unfortunately, since the third week of school, some have been trying to split us apart and take our team planning time. Because it is a CTT class, there must be two teachers with our students at all times, even during cluster classes. Our school has not accommodated this requirement, and the cluster teachers and UFT representative know this. Their solution: One of the classroom teachers must give up the team planning time and stay with the cluster teacher. Anyone familiar with the rights of NYC teachers would know that our contract gives us a certain amount of planning time that cannot be taken away. Don’t worry, we've been told, you’ll get your planning time.
November 26, 2008
Rise & Shine: Wednesday, 11/26
Bad budget news: from Governor Paterson, talking to school leaders. (Daily News) Optimistic budget news: from Senator Schumer, talking about a possible federal bailout.
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