Monday, November 29, 2004

Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level Books: Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level


1. Use a ruler to underline text. Read the line first, then have the child read.
2. For special needs children phonics based programs work better.
3. By second grade a child should be reading fluently.
4. Read every day, even if it's quite brief.

Doesn't sound like much, but in 2-3 years of special education reading interventions it's the most concrete advice we've ever received. We've wasted about two years on visual approaches and word lists.

She provides a set of books to start with and advance with, along with tips for each.

We will be studying this book.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

An open source solution for school information systems

MacInTouch Home Page
Centre 1.3 is a web-based, open source, school information system, written in PHP and designed for elementary, middle, and high schools. Features include student and employee information screens, scheduling, grade book, attendance, eligibility, transcripts, and more. This release includes a Student Summary Attendance Report, an improved Daily Summary Attendance Report, searching for users by username, weighting of assignment types, teacher comments for students by semester, and more. Centre is free for Mac OS X, Linux/Unix, and Windows.

A teacher's response to stories of classroom abuse of autistic children

Special Education News and Links: | Local & State
You can have all the training and book knowledge as possible, but after days of not meeting the goals that parents, the school and now the No Child Left Behind Act places on teachers, there is strain and stress that no amount of training can alleviate...

...Training in correct procedures - yes important. But what about support/counseling for how to personally deal with a student that repeatedly bites you or rips your clothes. How do you deal with the every day? Not with the student, but in the teacher's head. You are faced with attacks towards you every day - it isn't personal, but it can feel that way. What about those days when all you can remember is the bad?

Stacy has a much longer comment than usual, triggered by allegations of teacher abuse of autistic children. I understand something about what she describes. A teacher (or parent) in this situation is akin to a spouse in an abusive relationship; save that in this case the "abuser" is fundamentally powerless and vulnerable.

We have a serious social problem with the education of special needs children. It's always been a tough problem, but I think it's going to get worse.

The problem is it costs much more to educate a special needs child than an average child. From a purely market-driven perspective the most efficient way to handle the "unproductives" is to eliminate them. That was, as far as we can judge, often the effective historic approach. I call that "leaving them to the wolves".

From about 1970 to 1995 we moved to another approach -- which as to provide additional resources based on need. I think that peaked with Clinton and the ADA -- though even then the Feds mostly provided unfunded mandates.

Cultures change. I think we're moving back towards the "wolves". It's not a matter of money alone; we're far richer now than we were in 1992. It's a matter of cultural milieu. One of the great divides between Democrats and Republicans in the last twenty years has been attitudes towards the disadvantaged. Republicans espouse "equal opportunity", by which they seem to mean "let the wolves sort it out". Democrats have spoken of, and sometimes acted on, the idea of protecting the weak. I think, whatever labels the parties end up getting, we're moving as a nation to the Republican axis.

In this transition, special needs, and disadvantaged, children are the canaries in the coal mine. Those teaching them will share their fate -- until they decide on another career.

Advocates for the disadvantaged have to adapt to changing conditions, even as we fight to slow the retreat. How to do that is something I'm working on ...

In the meantime, teachers like Stacy may benefit from creating support groups, and should have anonymous counseling as a part of their support system.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Computer technology for special education and rehabilitation

Welcome to Closing The Gap

Looks like this started out as a newsletter ($34/year) and became a companion vendor site. Newsletter may be worth subscribing to.

They are MSP locals and run an annual conference, which, unfortunately, we just missed:
Closing The Gap's annual international conference, Computer Technology in Special Education and Rehabilitation, is held each fall in Minneapolis, MN, exploring the many ways that technology is being used to enhance the lives of people with special needs. The 23rd Annual Conference will be held October 20-22, 2005.

Confusing Words

Confusing Words

This started out as a learning and reading disorders project. Looks like they've repackaged it for a wider audience. Good words for more advanced readers.

Yak-Yak: Scandinavian software for teaching reading

Yak-Yak: General information

You can try the WordFinder, a tool for finding matching words based that may be very poorly misspelled.

Yak-Yak was developed to assist learning english as a second language. It provides synthetic speech generation. It's been repurposed for students with reading disorders. I can't figure out the price, they do provide links to consulting services.

Working Together: Computers and People with Learning Disabilities

Working Together: Computers and People with Learning Disabilities
Reading Systems

An individual who can take in information through listening much better than by reading may benefit from using a reading system. These systems allow text on screen (document, web page or email) to be read aloud through the computer's sound card. A scanner and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software (e.g., Freedom Scientific's WYNN or Kurzweil 3000) adds the feature of reading printed text. Hard copy text is placed on the scanner where it is converted into a digital image. This image is then converted to a text file, making the characters recognizable by the computer. The computer can then read the words back using a speech synthesizer and simultaneously present the words on screen.

Reading systems include options such as highlighting a word, sentence, or paragraph using contrasting colors. If desired, the reader may elect to have only one word at a time appear on the screen to improve her grasp of the material. Increasing the size of the text displayed on the screen as well as changing text color can increase reading comprehension for some people with specific learning disabilities.

I wonder about using one of these tools to help a child who's far behind in reading participate in some classroom activities.

Spectrum Training Systems (Wisconsin) is doing an "Autism Strategies" conference in Minneapolis - Dec 2nd and 3rd

Spectrum Training Systems, Inc:Autism Strategies for
Home, School & Community.

The conference is at the Hyatt Regency: 1300 Nicollet Mall. There's parking at the hotel.

The Thur Dec 2nd session looks to be of the broadest interest. Cost is $130 for one day -- not bad! ($95 for parents). There are overall sessions and sessions on meds and law enforcement.

I'm going to see if there's a way to sponsor a teacher or two -- it is short notice unfortunately.

Tips for Running a Social Group for autistic teens and young people (Autism Society of Wisconsin)

Tips for Running a Social Group
Tips for Starting a Social Group:

1. Think positive - It’s not as much work as it sounds. All you need is a computer and a sense of fun. Start by doing things you and your family enjoy. The AUsome newsletter invites others to join me and my family in an interesting adventure.
2. Start small. The AUsome Social Group now has almost members, but we started with 4. Our first activities were very conventional – like bowling.
3. You don’t have to do everything at once. This document is a series of tips that has evolved over the past years. Just because AUsome has a formal newsletter and a scrapbook doesn’t mean your group has to do that, especially right away. Do whatever works for you.
4. Maintain a list of group members. I use an Access database for this purpose. I collect name, address, phone numbers (home, work, parents), e-mail address, birth date, parent’s names and a general comments field. I keep this list updated religiously...

There's much more. Quite a nice piece of work!

Autism Society of Wisconsin - Autism Spectrum Disorder Handout

Autism Society of Wisconsin - Autism Spectrum Disorder

This is quite a nice reference. I'd recommend it as a handout for teachers. We'll give it a try ourselves. It suggests the rest of this state autism site is well worth an evaluation.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Reasonable review of the new special education funding bill

Funding for special education improved, but rules are altered

A possibility of more funding, but rather unlikely.

Web site on IDEA reauthorization


Tracks the progress of special education federal legislation. Grim, of course.

The Republican special education bill

The New York Times > Education > Parts of Special-Ed Bill Would Shift More Power to States and School Districts

We've been expecting bad news from the Republican party. Let's see how bad it is:
The New York Times
November 22, 2004
Parts of Special-Ed Bill Would Shift More Power to States and School Districts

WASHINGTON, Nov. 21 - In updating the law governing special education for the nation's 6.5 million disabled students, Congress has given state and school officials more power to shape the terms for providing services to disabled children, paring down rights that advocates for such students had won during the Clinton administration.

...would make it harder for dissatisfied parents to sue to obtain services for their disabled children. For one thing, they will have to submit to mediation or other meetings to give school officials a last chance to resolve disputes before the courts may intervene.

And if the courts deem a suit frivolous, or aimed at harassing a school system, the bill allows school districts to recover legal costs from parents or their lawyers. Though courts have in the past meted out such penalties on a case-by-case basis, the threat of huge legal fees will now be written into the federal law, a victory for school districts that some advocates for children fear will be used to intimidate parents.

...The law also gives schools greater latitude to remove disabled children who misbehave, shifting to parents the burden of proving that a disability caused disruptive behavior. Previously, it was up to the schools to demonstrate that the misbehavior was unrelated to the student's medical condition and to show they had done everything in their power to help the child.

parents and advocates expressed relief that the final bill abandoned what they saw as the most troubling proposals in an earlier version approved by the House in April 2003.

That version, which was widely supported by school and state officials, would have permitted schools to oust disabled children who violated behavior codes, without considering whether the misbehavior was caused by their disability. It would also have allowed states to limit reimbursements to lawyers who win suits for disabled children against school systems.

... There are some features in the new law that please advocates for the disabled. One, aimed at reducing the over-identification of African-Americans for special education, requires the federal government to better monitor special-education enrollment and investigate racial disparities. Another creates new demands for states to publicly report on the academic progress of disabled students.

Elaine Roberts, a lawyer based in Houston who represents disabled children, said that with the growing importance of standardized exams in rating school performance, schools had tended to exclude disabled students from accountability systems, instead opting to give them alternative exams that can be more open to manipulation...

... The strengthened federal role the new law details, which permits Washington to withhold money from districts that come up short, has infuriated some state officials. They say Congress, since it first passed the law in 1975, has consistently failed to sufficiently finance special education.

David Shreve, the education lobbyist for the National Conference of State Legislators, said that when schools or states failed to fulfill their obligations to educate a disabled child, "you've got to back all the way up the system and figure out why is the promise broken.''

"Many promises are broken because the resources aren't there to follow through on the promise," Mr. Shreve said.
Basically, it's not as bad as it could have been -- mostly because of when it was legislated. The House bill of 4/03 sounds like a real nightmare, but nowadays it would probably become law.

A longterm outcome study from intensive early childhood intervention

The New York Times > Magazine > Idea Lab: Life Way After Head Start

This NYT Magazine article reports on the longterm outcomes from a fairly intensive 1962 preschool program. By the modern standards of well funded clinical research this is a seriously crummy study. It's too small, they measure too many things, there's too much obvious bias, the interventions are probably not balanced. By the standards of underfunded social science research in education it may be a landmark work.

Unfortunately I can't make much sense of the way Krip reports things. Sometimes he reports percentages and sometimes he reports numbers. There's no way to tell if any of the numbers are statistically significant, though the high school graduation and incarceration rates may have been altered. The experimental group had higher identified earnings, but they will still very low ($20,000 a year) -- and the rate of incarceration (1/2 in the control vs. 1/4 in the experimental group) may have accounted for the entire income difference. You don't earn much in jail. (I would hope real incomes were higher than stated incomes, since at least 1/4 to 1/2 of the group seem to have had non-legal non-taxable incomes.)

Assuming there's some real validity (can't tell from the NYT magazine article) the main surprise is that there was any effect at all. The consensus has been that early childhood interventions have little longterm effect.

Overall we don't know what made the difference in graduation and incarceration. Was it the cognitive effect, or the effect of being part of an obvious longterm intervention (the "Hawthorne effect"? It may well have been the latter -- a sense of being special and of being important. This is an important and long identified effect in non-blinded randomized trials such as this one.

Few questions are as important as this one. It's pathetic that we don't have billions of dollars invested in researching these questions. The dedication of these researchers is astounding. The failure of America to care for its young is also astounding.
The New York Times
November 21, 2004
Life Way After Head Start

The power of education to level the playing field has long been an American article of faith. Education is the ''balance wheel of the social machinery,'' argued Horace Mann, the first great advocate of public schooling. ''It prevents being poor.'' But that belief has been undermined by research findings -- seized on ever since by skeptics -- that federal programs like Head Start, designed to benefit poor children, actually have little long-term impact.

Now evidence from an experiment that has lasted nearly four decades may revive Horace Mann's faith. ''Lifetime Effects: The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study Through Age 40,'' was released earlier this week. It shows that an innovative early education program can make a marked difference in the lives of poor minority youngsters -- not just while they are in school but for decades afterward. The 123 participants in this experiment, says David Ellwood, dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and an architect of the Clinton administration's original welfare reform plan, ''may be the most powerfully influential group in the recent history of social science.''

The life stories of the Perry students have been tracked since they left preschool in the 1960's. Like so much in education research, the findings have been known mainly in professional circles. But this latest dispatch from the field, confirming the remarkable and enduring impact of a long-ago experience, should alter the way we understand preschool and, maybe, the way society invests in the future.

The study began without fanfare in the fall of 1962, several years before Head Start was conceived. In the mostly blue-collar town Ypsilanti, Mich., 21 3- and 4-year-old children started preschool. All of them, as well as 37 more youngsters who enrolled over the next three years, were black. They came from poor families, and the South Side neighborhood, with its rundown public housing and high crime rates, was a rough place to grow up.

Based on past experience, it was a near certainty that most of these kids would fail in school. During the previous decade, not a single class in the Perry elementary school had ever scored above the 10th percentile on national achievement tests, while across town, in the school that served the children of well-off professionals, no class had ever scored below the 90th percentile.

The reformers who developed the High/Scope Perry model hoped that exposure at an early age to a program emphasizing cognitive development could rewrite this script. Most children attended Perry for two years, three hours a day, five days a week. The curriculum emphasized problem-solving rather than unstructured play or ''repeat after me'' drills. The children were viewed as active learners, not sponges; a major part of their daily routine involved planning, carrying out and reviewing what they were learning. Teachers were well trained and decently paid, and there was a teacher for every five youngsters. They made weekly home visits to parents, helping them teach their own children....

... From a group of 123 South Side neighborhood children, 58 were randomly assigned to the Perry program, while the rest, identical in virtually all respects, didn't attend preschool...

Early results were discouraging. In reading and arithmetic, the preschoolers' achievement scores at 7 and 8 weren't much better than the control group's, and while the preschoolers' IQ scores spiked, that difference soon disappeared. Those results were consistent with the dispiriting conclusion of a 1969 nationwide evaluation of Head Start. That study's key finding -- that the boost in test scores recorded by Head Start children faded by second grade -- was widely interpreted to mean that Head Start and, by implication, most other early childhood education programs for poor kids, were a waste of time.

But in Ypsilanti the researchers didn't give up. They collected data every year from age 3 through 11, then at ages 14, 15, 19, 27 and now 40 -- an astonishingly long time span in the research annals. Just as astonishingly, they have kept track of 97 percent of the surviving group...

...As they progressed through school, the Perry children were less likely to be assigned to a special education class for the mentally retarded. Their attitude toward school was also better, and their parents were more enthusiastic about their youngsters' schooling. Their high-school grade point average was higher. By age 19, two-thirds had graduated from high school, compared with 45 percent of those who didn't attend preschool.

Most remarkably, the impact of those preschool years still persists. By almost any measure we might care about -- education, income, crime, family stability -- the contrast with those who didn't attend Perry is striking. When they were 27, the preschool group scored higher on tests of literacy. Now they are in their 40's, many with children and even grandchildren of their own. Nearly twice as many have earned college degrees (one has a Ph.D.). More of them have jobs: 76 percent versus 62 percent. They are more likely to own their home, own a car and have a savings account. They are less likely to have been on welfare. They earn considerably more -- $20,800 versus $15,300 -- and that difference pushes them well above the poverty line.

The crime statistics reveal similarly significant differences. Compared with the control group, fewer preschoolers have gone on to be arrested for violent crimes, drug-related crimes or property crimes. Only about half as many (28 percent versus 52 percent) have been sentenced to prison or jail. Preschool also seems to have affected their decisions about family life. More of the males in the Perry contingent have been married (68 percent versus 51 percent, though they are also more likely than those who didn't attend Perry to have been married more than once) and almost twice as many have raised their own children (57 percent versus 30 percent). These men report fewer serious complaints about their health and are less likely to use drugs.

The newest report attaches a dollar-and-cents figure to this good news. Economists estimate that the return to society is more than $250,000 (calculated in 2000 dollars) on an investment of just $15,166 -- that's 17 dollars for every dollar invested.

... The strategy first developed at Perry is now packaged as the High/Scope curriculum and is widely used across the nation. Other well-conceived preschool initiatives have also generated impressive long-term results, including the Chicago school district's Child-Parent Center Program, which brings mothers and relatives into the schools, and the Carolina Abecedarian Project, in which intervention begins during the very first weeks of an infant's life and carries on until kindergarten...

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Lovaas autism treatment and Canadian government funded healthcare

News | network
The Supreme Court of Canada refused to elevate health funding to a constitutional right in a ruling that was a stunning setback for families of autistic children asking the state to pay for expensive treatment...

...The 7-0 ruling was the culmination of a six-year legal battle begun by four B.C. families after the government refused to fund what is known as Lovaas autism treatment, saying it was 'novel, controversial, experimental and not a medically necessary service.'

The treatment, which has shown dramatic results in some cases, was pioneered in the United States by psychologist Ivar Lovaas in the late 1980s. Autistic children undergo 20 to 40 hours a week of intensive one-on-one therapy that is most effective when a child is young.

Some provinces, including Alberta, Ontario and Prince Edward Island, cover the therapy costs to some degree, but many expenses are left to parents.

The families say government refusal to pay for the treatment is short-sighted, given that about 90% of autistic children are eventually institutionalized at an enormous cost to taxpayers.

A plague strikes Atlantica. Ten thousand children will die -- unless they receive a radical new treatment. The therapy costs a billion dollars, and it will save half the children. Is the state obligated to pay?

I don't know what the Canadian supreme court was voting on, but I suspect, in one form or another, that it came down to the billion dollar question. Their answer may have been that the state might choose to pay, but it would not be obliged to pay.

So what about Lovaas treatment? Should an insurer, state or private, pay for it? Kaiser has worked these questions for years, most famously with bone marrow transplant for breast cancer chemotherapy. In that case they more or less decided to pay, but then we discovered the treatment didn't really work (or rather, we couldn't predict who it would help and who it would kill).

If Lovaas therapy changed outcomes from institutionalization to semi-independent living for half the treated children, then I suspect it makes lots of sense to pay for it. It's a lot of money ($60K/year for several years), but that cost would fall quickly over time. I bet we'd get it down to a treatment cost of $150K/course of therapy. That's well in the range of surgical and oncologic interventions for a comparable benefit. Since institutionalization is lifelong and very expensive, the economic benefit of treatment would be very strong, almost trivial to state. (Death, in comparison, is cheap. So the economic arguments for treating merely life threatening diseases are far weaker.)

If I were given the harsh task of deciding whether to try to help these children (note I do have a child who might have qualified for a variant of this intervention) I'd try to get numbers on effectiveness. How many children get the best benefits? Does it turn out that only 1 in 10 avoid institutionalization? That's of enormous benefit to that child, but now we're talking $1.5 million for each child helped. Or, most likely of all, will it turn out that there's no real data? Given the cost of this research, and the appalling lack of research funding, I suspect we just don't know.

I must add though, that if these were children dying of leukemia, that there'd probably be more willingness to treat even without good data. Humans are famously illogical.

I'm interested in what Kaiser will decide. I tried searching to see if they'd published anything, but I came up with nothing.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

PowerSchool from Apple

Apple - PowerSchool from Apple
PowerSchool, a web-based student information system (SIS) from Apple, simplifies data-driven decision making by providing real-time information to all stakeholders — over the Internet. Administrators get the most accurate information to make more effective decisions. Teachers gain timesaving administrative tools, parents gain immediate access to their children’s grades, and students can track their own progress.

PowerSchool is built for the web and your budget. With the ability to centrally locate your server at the district office, you don’t need to buy a server for every school. And because PowerSchool is platform independent, it can be accessed from any Windows or Mac computer with a web browser and supports Windows and Mac server platforms.

Sounds like some of the hospital software systems I work with in my real job.

This kind of monitoring capability may be most important for at-risk children. I wonder if this software solution could be extended to provide a comprehensive view of the progress of an at-risk child for all the "stakeholders" -- not only parents but also tutors, therapists, etc.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Children with EDCD: is it bad parenting or bad luck?

AP Wire | 11/06/2004 | Advocates try to keep special ed kids out of child welfare system
Janet Stotland worries that parents of special-education students can sometimes face having their parenting skills put on trial - literally - by school districts frustrated by their children's emotional and behavioral problems.

As co-director of the Education Law Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy group in Philadelphia, Stotland is on the lookout for situations in which she believes districts are inappropriately referring special-education students to the child welfare system.

A child misbehaves in school, fails to perform adequately, is absent and disruptive. Is this due to bad parenting? Should child protective services be involved?

Ahh. There are no easy answers here. Yeah, it could be bad parenting, or it could be "EBCD" (emotional, behavioral and cognitive disorders) arising from disease, bad genes, bad luck ... Or it could be both; a parent will often be affected by the same neurocognitive disorder that afflicts their child -- a disorder that is unlikely to promote omniscient parenting.

Of course the last thing one needs, when struggling to be the best possible parent for a child who's ill-suited to our modern world, is to also get stuck with a court date. Talk about adding injury to injury!

PS. Got this one from the special ed blog in my blogroll (see sidebar).