News-in-Brief – July 2010

The “Forgotten Middle” Gets Hill Attention

LDA is working on the Success in the Middle Act (H.R. 3006/S. 1362) in coalition with other education groups to focus attention on the importance of supports for students in the middle grades. Recently the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform sponsored a briefing on Capitol Hill to highlight the problems in middle schools and how two middle schools have turned around expectations and achieved success.

Co-sponsored by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Middle Schools Association, the College Board, and ACT, the forum gave some startling statistics on the middle grades. Students in the middle grades comprise 58 percent of students taking annual tests mandated under No Child Left Behind. Middle schools receive a significantly lower amount of Title I funds than elementary schools, although middle schools represent around 35 percent of Title I schools under corrective action or restructuring.
Gayle Andrews, President-Elect of the National Forum, cited the Early Warning Signs developed by Robert Balfanz, a research scientist at Johns Hopkins, as part of study of a group of Philadelphia students (1996-2004). Balfanz found four critical indicators that can identify if a 6th grader is likely to drop out. They include failing math, failing language arts, receiving a poor final behavior grade in one class, and attending school less than 80 percent of the time.

The two schools highlighted were the Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School in Henry County, VA, and Granger Jr. High School, National City, CA. Both have strong principals as instructional leaders and have involved families extensively in their programs. Both schools have a significant low-income population and a high number of limited English proficient students, as well as students with disabilities, and they are seeing successes with students across the board.

The Forum highlights excellence in middle grades education through its Schools to Watch program.

Agencies Express Position on Electronic Book Readers

The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education (ED) sent a “Dear Colleague” letter (June 29, 2010) to college and university presidents expressing concerns about the use of inaccessible electronic book readers. The letter states that requiring the use of technology that is not accessible to an “entire population of individuals with disabilities – individuals with visual disabilities,” constitutes violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act unless students are provided accommodations or modifications that allow them to receive “all the educational benefits provided by the technology in an equally effective and equally integrated manner.”

LDA has been working through the Reading Rights Coalition to ensure students with learning disabilities are included under the definition of print disabled and are covered by directives such as this recent letter. The letter does not specifically address individuals with learning disabilities because it is a response to specific litigation. However, ED also issued a question and answer document that includes students with learning disabilities in the estimate of how many students with “print disabilities” could be affected by required use of inaccessible electronic book readers.

Click here for the letter and questions and answers with additional information.

Revised Jobs Bill Moves a Step Forward

Previously, LDA reported on a proposed EduJobs bill that would have provided $23 billion to school districts to help maintain the education workforce during the current economic crisis (See News-In-Brief, June 2010). H.R. 4899, the FY 2010 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill, moved one step forward with House passage of a smaller amendment on July 1. The bill, which now has been sent to the Senate for action, would provide $10 billion for education-related jobs, with that amount paid for by a number of offsets, including $800 million in rescissions from some Department of Education grants. The $800 million would come from the Race to the Top initiative, charter school grants, and the Teacher Incentive Fund, and has prompted a veto threat from the president.

Representative Dave Obey (D-WI), chairman of the House Appropriations Committees and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-Health and Human Services-Education, has stated that the amendment provides significant benefits, including staving off what are expected to be massive layoffs of teachers and specialized instructional support personnel. Under the Obey amendment, $9.899 billion would go directly to states under the same formula as the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act).

The amendment passed on a vote of 239-182. Three Republicans (Castle, DE; Johnson, IL; and Kirk, IL) voted for the amendment, and 15 Democrats voted against (Baird, WA; Bright, AL; Cooper, TN; Dahlkemper, PA; Herseth Sandlin, SD; Markey, CO; Marshall, GA; Peterson, MN; Polis, CO; Skelton, MO; Snyder, AR; Tanner, TN; Taylor, MS; Visclosky, IN; and Welch, VT).

Next the Senate will consider the bill. If further amendments are passed in the Senate, the bill must then be considered again in the House. If the Senate agrees with the House amendment, they can then work to find other offsets, if necessary, if the presidential veto threat remains.

Celebration of ADA 20th Anniversary Begins

On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act, the first comprehensive civil rights law for persons with disabilities. On June 6 at the VSA International Festival in Washington, DC, Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama, kicked off the celebration of the 20th anniversary. On behalf of the President, Ms. Jarrett stated, “The ADA was a landmark civil rights legislation. It was a bill of rights for persons with disabilities, a formal acknowledgement that Americans with disabilities are Americans first and that they’re entitled to the same rights and freedoms as everybody else….[t]he ADA’s 20th anniversary is an opportunity to recommit ourselves to making sure that we see those with disabilities for what they can do rather than for what they cannot. And that everyone has the right to pursue the American dream, everyone, just like everyone else.”

National disability organizations are gearing up for major celebrations across the country to mark the 20-year milestone. The National Council on Disability will host a National Summit in Washington, DC, July 25-28 (invitation only) to celebrate the 20th anniversary and to launch a national dialogue on disability policies and programs in the 21st century. In addition, an ADA Anniversary Toolkit is available on the DBTAC National Network of ADA Centers website.

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