Special Education Today newsletter 3(31)
Would you want a warning that this issue is especially high on the Drivel Scale?
Editor’s note: Pretty much every time I publish something, I. later find errors in it. This post was raft with them. I’ve edited the version I sent originally. I hope I got all the errors and introduced no new mistakes. My apologies to readers.—JohnL
This being Monday morning, it must be time for me to post the next edition of the newsletter for Special Education Today. So, welcome! This is the 31st issue of the third volume of the newsletter, which translates to something greater than 125 issues of the weekly newsletter.
As you may guess, the contents are readily recognizable, at least, in their overall structure. Readers will find some familiar material mixed into notes about activity in the community, a table of contents, covering recent posts, and a little commentary at the end.
As a warm-up for this issue, please consider the accompanying photograph. I took this photo 27 January 2024 just about 10-20 m from where I'm sitting now as I prepare this newsletter. Yeah, right here in Beautyville in late January in our backyard there were daffodils blooming.
We had a couple of days of unseasonably, warm weather, and I suspect that warmth brought out the blossoms (though time of blooming is largely controlled by genetics!) that were already present on the stocks from the daffodil bulbs in the backyard. You can see in the background of the photo greenery from other clusters of bulbs. Also note that some cut stems from last year are in the cluster, too. Anyway, it was fun to photograph these flowers and think about passing the photo along to you, dear readers.
Did any of you readers have unusual blooms recently?
First off, here’s a big, wet kiss for those of you who have read all or nearly all of these 125-130 newsletter issues! DrBob, Ed P., Clay K., Joel M., Dan H., Christine T., William F., Jimmy the K., Mike N., Mike G., Anita A., Li-Yu H., and others have been around pretty much from the get-go. Thanks, y’all.
Adelaide D. and Ronnie D. were among the most active of the readers this past week. Adelaide dropped multiple likes on posts over the week as well as a comment or two. Alert readers will know that Ronnie D is the account for Ronnie Detrick, a subscriber who is no longer alive (our loss); Ronnie was a good pal and a damn fine special educator, and I'm glad to have his ghost (I think it's animated by Cheryl D.) dropping likes and such on the Web site.1
Thanks, too, to Dan H., Joel M., and all the rest of y'all who commented, liked posts, or sent me notes directly.2 Those activities help to make SET appear to be a valuable place; that is, agents such as Google’s spider-robots see activity as indicative of value or worthiness. So those agents’ bosses (who are algorithms) boost the rating or ranking of SET accordingly.
I had the wonderful opportunity to connect with a couple of subscribers in person this past week. Thanks to Stephanie R. and Dan H. for making time to hang with me, (though not at the same time).
Table of Recent Contents
Unlike last week, this week there were only a half dozen posts for readers to wade through this week. Here is a catalog of those entries:
Considering the hype: What do I think when I'm reading pitches for products?
Old notes on block scheduling: What was the research like in circa 2000?
A glimpse of benefits of ABA for young children: What did Paul Coyne learn from using ABA with youngsters who had ASD?
Olds: Special education–overidentification and dumping: What was published 27 January 2005?
"Back to basics": Not: Isn't it awful when one's fears come true?
North American Inclusion Month: Wait...what month is being observed soon?
I know that all these posts are in the rearview mirror. They’ve already been published (and read). But, there are new posts coming soon. To keep up with the latest, go regularly to Special Education Today by John Wills Lloyd. Even better, start a subscription (please choose one that financially supports the work).
Special Education Today by John Wills Lloyd is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
As I was reviewing the recent post regarding over identification and dumping, I had also been proofing a chapter Jim Kauffman and I wrote (it’s about statistics, math, and special ed) as well as reading research about identification of children and youth from particular ethnic groups as having or not having disabilities. I thought the intersection of several hot topics—dyslexia, ethnic groups, identification of LD, and strong research evidence—provided a good opportunity to provide some observations about special education.
People representing special education and many other groups (general educators, psychologists, sociologists, advocates, parents, administrators… the list could go on) have expressed concern about the possibility that students from certain ethnic groups (especially students with African-American heritage or students for whom English is not a primary language) might be mistakenly identified as having learning disabilities, or other disabilities, simply because of their ethnic or language background. Reducing false positive identifications of disabilities is certainly an admirable goal.
False positives are a concern for not just philosophical academics, such as some of us in the disability community might be considered, but also for parents and policy makers. People who identify as advocates for particular population groups might quite legitimately want to protect their children from situations where their children might be harmed. Not only should we educators want to reserve resources for those students who need them the most, but also, we do not want to mistakenly assign labels to students when those labels might have unwanted consequences.
In that context, the currently popular topic of dyslexia as a learning disability, has a special resonance. Historically many concerns about ethnicity and linguistic differences having influence on identification of disability, focused on intellectual disability. However, contemporary concerns about mistaken, identification of learning disabilities, including dyslexia, bring the topic of ethnic and linguistic differences to the forefront, as well. To be sure, special educators hope that students are not harmed by faulty (e.g., not-evidence-based) practices in the general or core curriculum, but fixing those faulty processes is not the responsibility of special education.
In the broader context, some research reveals that many children and youth, who come from ethnically and linguistically smaller populations of students are more frequently represented in the population of students identified as having disabilities. That is, a walk-through of special education facilities (i.e., locations where students receive services) could reveal that there are more Black, brown, and non-English-speaking students in those places. It's not, just a matter of places and physical locations. Examining broad (state-wide) numbers of students identified as having disabilities according to their ethnic and linguistic background can be seen as an indication that they may be over represented in the special ed population. So, maybe there's too many false positives during the identification process, too many kids from non-dominant linguistic and ethnic backgrounds who are being identified as having disabilities.3
If special education is a ‘dumping ground’ for segregating socio-cultural mismatches between education and students’ characteristics, then the problem of false positives is even more heightened. That is, if special education is a bad thing, and you don't want to be associated with it, then there's no value in allowing students from ethnic and linguistic minorities to gain access to it.4
But let me return to the question of the intersection among ethnic differences, dyslexia, and identification, as I wrote when I introduced this commentary. First, let's just understand that there is the possibility of false positive identifications, and that those false positives might be predicated on misunderstandings or misinterpretations of child performance data. Let's stipulate that dyslexia is a language performance, and that, linguistic and ethnic differences might affect measures of language performance that are used to determine whether a student qualifies for a special education as having a learning disability. All those things aside, let me introduce an interesting current bit of research that goes directly to those issues.
In early December 2023, Laura Cassidy, and colleagues published an article entitled, "Prevalence of undiagnosed dyslexia in African-American primary school children.” Cassidy et al. reported that a substantial proportion (almost half!) of African-American kindergarten children in one New Orleans local education agency were found to be at risk for dyslexia, and that additional testing showed many of those students had dyslexia.
Now, we can debate the features of the research methods. Some will wonder about the adequacy of the screening devices used by Cassidy et al. (what’s the reliability and validity of the “test”), some can argue about the standards (the “cut scores”) used for determining whether children had dyslexia, some can debate whether the selection of the sample for the study was representative (did the researchers pick a particularly risky group?), and on and on and on. These technical questions about the specific study merit consideration—especially by academics such as I—and I welcome them.
There is, however, a much more important matter than the scientific adequacy of the research project, and it needs to be examined here. To be sure, it is important that education advocates carefully examine the research they use when they recommend policies, practices, and procedures for determining whether students are eligible for special education. Educators definitely need to talk about the evidence regarding over identification, mis-identification, false positives, and similar associated issues.
But, we (they?) also need to consider this bigger picture issue: If one is determining whether a student is eligible for special education, one needs to weigh that decision against its alternative: Whether the student is ineligible for a special education. Said, another way, what are the consequences of a false negative decision? What if a student who comes from a minority ethnic group is found to be ineligible for special education because she's black? What if a child who has had all the opportunities that the general education community can generate, does not have intellectual disability, does not have sensory deficits, and still is not learning to compute? Should she be excluded from special education because she lives in a home where everyone else’s language is, say, Mandarin?
Is it racist to “put” a child in special education when he has certain ethnic or linguistic characteristics? Is it racist to “exclude” a child from special education when she has certain ethnic or linguistic characteristics?
Sometimes, I fear we advocates get lost in the details of our debates about policies—labeling, social justice, inclusion, and similar topics—and we lose sight of the human lives that the individual kids represent. For my money, I hope eligibility decisions for special education are not predicated on the children’s and families’s ethnic or linguistic heritage, but on the needs of the students and their families.
So, in that regard, please look for and stop and smell flowers, wear your seatbelts, practice good health behaviors, and teach your children well.
John Wills Lloyd, Ph.D., editor and founder, https://SpecialEducationToday.com
I need to do a little more investigating about Ronnie's situation, because, when someone passes away, I usually cancel her or his subscription to SET and issue a refund for the remainder of the life of the subscription. I'm pretty sure I did this in case of Ronnie's subscription and I know Sheryl sent me some notes through channels about the topic but somehow his account is still active and by active I mean adding content to the website. Ronnie, man, thank you…and keep on dancing!
Simply reply to the newsletter or a post that you receive in your email. Check the to address to ensure that it’s going to me, but if someone simply replies to an email post, the reply should come directly to me.
But, it’s important to note that this version of over-representation comes from the 10,000 meter view. When one looks at evidence about two children with essentially equal characteristics (age, gender, achievement, ability, socioeconomic status, etc.) who only differ on racial background, White children are more likely to be identified as needing services than Black children.
This "big " idea—sped is bad—is one worth exploring, and I plan to post a note regarding whether special education is, indeed "special" in the near future.