Betsy DeVos, Nominee for Secretary of the Department of Education Shows a Critical Lack of Understanding of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
During the confirmation hearing for Secretary of the Department of Education, nominee Betsy DeVos demonstrated confusion about the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA is a federal law that is designed to ensure services to an estimated 6.5 million eligible youth with disabilities. DeVos stated that decisions regarding compliance with IDEA should be “‘left to the states.’” The quality of state-level decisions can vary widely. For example, a recent review by the Center for Innovative School Leadership found that black students were twice as likely to be labeled as having “learning impairments” than white students in the Lawrence public school district in Kansas. On a positive note, the Data Quality Campaign reports the state of Maryland found that children with disabilities who received earlier services were more prepared for school than those who did not, and that 68% of children receiving early interventions exited special education by third grade.
A potentially landmark United States Supreme Court case raises significant questions about how to determine the level of educational benefit the IDEA requires that students with disabilities receive. As Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post explains: “The Supreme Court ruled decades ago that IEPs [Individual Education Programs for each student with a disability] must lay out plans that provide some educational benefit, but it didn’t set a benefit standard, and lower courts have been divided over what it should be.” According to Laura McKenna of the Atlantic, the key question now before the Supreme Court is: “Must schools provide a meaningful education in which the child shows significant progress and is substantially equal to typical children, or can they provide an education that results in just some improvement?” Another interesting area for further exploration is how a newly established or clarified educational benefit standard under the IDEA would translate into the educational and related services provided to students with disabilities, as well as programmatic evaluations and student performance assessments. (On a related note, EdWeek reports that a Neurocore, a company in which DeVos estimates her investment to be between $5 million to $25 million, claims a neurofeedback fix to ADHD. Researchers say this claim is misleading and that treatments remain experimental. The article points to potential conflicts of interest for DeVos.)
Happenings. In a survey from the Human Rights Campaign of over 50,000 youth aged 13-18 years, 70% reported witnessing “bullying, hate speech or harassment since the 2016 election.” Pro-Publica reports that the Trevor Project, a crisis centre for LGBT youth, reported a markedly higher volume of calls during November and December of this year than previous years. Anti-immigration rhetoric from the Trump administration continues to cause concerns about student data. DACA students feel increased uncertainty about employment, schooling, and residency. Education Week data analysis finds that black students are more likely to be arrested in school, and they are more likely to attend schools that have policing. An annual report on broadband connectivity in K-12 schools from Education Superhighway finds that 10.4 million more students have access to the internet than last year, for a total of 88% of districts in the United States. Although increased connectivity is promising, new research from the OECD reveals that equal access to the Internet does not close the “digital divide.” The study showed that although young people from wealthy and poor backgrounds spend a similar amount of time online, they use the Internet differently. The UNESCO Global Education Monitoring report reviewed secondary-school textbooks from the 1950s until 2011 to examine how they handled topics related to gender, human rights, cultural diversity, environmental protection and the like. The data shows that although progress has been made, these topics are still minimized and misrepresented. This article traces roots of personalized learning systems to the IDEA, finding that meeting the unique needs of students with disabilities “broke the calcified mold of the one-size-fits-all teaching approach.” This article posits that the push for personalized learning has catalyzed innovation for addressing learning needs of students with disabilities. In her new book, Giving Voice: Mobile Communication, Disability, and Inequality, Meryl Alper, assistant professor of communication studies at Northeastern University and a faculty associate at Berkman Klein, explores whether technologies truly act as an equalizer for children with disabilities. A new study from the Equality of Opportunity project based on tax filings and tuition finds that “38 colleges had more students from the top 1 percent than the bottom 60 percent.” Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press raises concern about how education data will be used at the federal level: “the tools provided by IES [Institute of Education Sciences] only work if the Department of Education takes data seriously, insists on truth, and avoids special-interest favoritism.” Henderson points to complexities/challenges in charter school research, and DeVos' focus to date on only the positive outcomes, as a potential harbinger for how Department of Education Secretary nominee DeVos might selectively interpret research data.
Teachable Moments Around & After the Inauguration
Teachers across the country responded to last week’s inaugural festivities in a variety of ways, including watching the ceremony and speech with their students. But one fourth-grade teacher in a small town near Michigan’s capital city made national news after he told parents that he would not show his students President Trump’s inaugural address because Trump’s “comments during the election about women, minorities and the disabled, comments [the teacher] characterized as inflammatory and derogatory, left him worried that Trump might make similar statements in his inauguration speech.” According to the superintendent for that district, all teachers had the authority to decide whether or not to show the inauguration in their classrooms, a policy that some other districts across the country–including the Atlanta, GA school district–also followed.
After the inauguration, public debate about the number of inaugural viewers–of all ages, from all locations–dominated headlines, as the Trump White House initially claimed the 2017 inauguration had the most viewers of any in history, an assertion for which mainstream media outlets found no evidence. Given the new administration’s self-professed embrace of “alternative facts”–about the number of inaugural viewers and as a more general matter–“the real action [for truthful media coverage of current events] is away from the assertions about crowd size and indeed away from the White House briefing room itself.”
For their part, educators are continuing to explore ways that they can equip students with the digital literacy and other skills necessary to be informed media consumers by assessing information quality and accuracy for themselves. Offerings include a curriculum for a new course titled “Calling Bullshit” from two professors at the University of Washington in Seattle, Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West. Professors Bergstrom and West explain that “[they] feel that the world has become oversaturated with bullshit and [they’re] sick of it. However modest, this course is [their] attempt to fight back … It’s not a matter of left- or right-wing ideology … adequate bullshit detection strikes as essential to the survival of liberal democracy.” As Roger Berkowitz, Academic Director of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and the Humanities, Bard College, explains: “there is a difference between lying, telling partial stories, and stretching the facts on the one hand and the bald denial of the reality of what one said or what happened on the other . . . It is paramount that the press and all of us insist on affirming reality [in order to avoid a shift toward a totalitarian form government]. What is shocking and terrifying is how unstable and fragile that commitment to reality has become.”
Happenings. Students at Harvard University are organizing an “Archive-a-thon” series “to ensure that government public data are preserved, accessible and reusable in the future”–details and sign-up here. As of this week, the federal Environmental Protection Agency is under a “temporary media blackout” imposed by the incoming Trump administration, which includes “specific prohibitions banning press releases, blog updates or posts to the agency’s social media accounts;” following the blackout, “[i]n an apparent act of defiance,” the Badlands National Park Twitter account shared tweets about climate change that were subsequently deleted. Some career agency officials have referred to these types of prohibitions as “‘standard practice.’” Data Quality Campaign’s President Aimee Rogstad Guidera and the Center for Democracy and Technology Director of the Free Expression Project Emma Llanso sat down for a podcast with CDT Tech Talk’s Brian Wesolowski to discuss some recommendations for the next presidential administration and the blocking or removing of online extremist content. The DevTech Research Group at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development at Tufts University have opened their registration for their summer programs and professional development workshops on tech skills for young learners, which will take place in July and August 2017. The outgoing administration of the U.S. Department of Education under President Obama unveiled recommendations for strengthening the role of tech in higher ed at a panel discussion at MIT earlier this month. Digitally Connected (a global initiative co-hosted by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society and UNICEF), the Fundación Ceibal Research Center (Uruguay), the Institute of Communication and Image of the University of Chile, the College of Communication and Information from the University of the Republic (Uruguay), and the GECTI (Grupo de Estudios Internet, Comercio Electrónico, Telecomunicaciones & Informática) from the College of Law from Universidad de los Andes (Colombia) invite the academic community, professionals, youth, civil society, activists, philanthropists, government officials, and representatives of companies to submit proposals for articles (traditional academic articles or reflective pieces from experiences in practice) or creative pieces (photo essays, drawings, illustrations, comics, infographic, etc.) on digital practices and processes of social inclusion that youth are developing in diverse Latin American contexts; further information available here.