News-in-Brief – October 2012

Presidential Forum Highlights Disability Issues

Five hundred people recently gathered in Columbus, Ohio, with thousands more in viewing parties around the country, to hear surrogates for President Obama and Governor Romney present each candidate’s views on matters of concern to Americans with disabilities. LDA joined with a long list of national organizations to sponsor the National Forum on Disability Issues, held on September 28. This was the only national event focused on disability issues during the presidential election campaign.

Thirty-seven million of the approximately 57 million individuals with disabilities are of voting age. “If we’re talking 5 to 8 percent of the undecided voters being the difference in this election cycle, convincing that 8 percent of the disability voters could be a game-changer,” said L. Scott Lissner, the Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator at Ohio State University. “Over the last four years in particular, there’s been a big push about voting awareness and access at the polls.”

The candidates were represented by Edward “Ted” Kennedy, Jr. for Obama and Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) for Romney. Both of these individuals have a personal connection to and are strong advocates for persons with disabilities. Kennedy lost a leg to bone cancer as a young boy, and McMorris Rogers is the mother of a child with Down Syndrome.

Before the representatives spoke, President Obama delivered a taped message to the disabled community, which comprises one in five Americans. Each surrogate then gave a 10-minute opening statement, followed by questions from moderator Frank Sesno, former CNN White House correspondent.

Questions covered topics including health care and Medicaid coverage, community employment, independent living, and access to higher education. Regarding Medicaid which provides health benefits to millions of Americans with disabilities, Kennedy said the president disagrees with Romney’s plan. Romney has said he would send a lump sum, or block grant, to states and let each decide eligibility and benefits. Obama and his supporters say this plan could lead to big programs cuts, because the block grants could not keep up with increases in health care costs. McMorris Rogers said Romney wants to protect the program, but believes we “can deliver these services smarter.”

Sesno asked Kennedy why Obama’s recent employment legislation did not include disabled workers, to which Kennedy replied the president had added 100,000 federal government jobs for disabled workers on the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Kennedy also cited the investment of $1 billion into the “Money Follow the Person” plan to provide more direct-care workers, as opposed to having people in nursing homes.

McMorris Rodgers said government efforts like the ADA and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) have allowed people with disabilities to make progress, but noted “many have not realized the full promise intended by these laws.” She said the government programs are not designed in a way that makes them easy to use. “A child is diagnosed with autism and a soldier returns from the war without a limb, and their families are thrown in the mud and told to swim,” she said.

Both presenters were asked what disability-related question they would ask Romney and Obama if they were moderating the candidates’ October 3 debate. Kennedy replied, “What is your orientation toward disabled people? Is it one of civil rights, pity, and fear, or we have to take care of those people?” Rodgers said she would ask, “How can we open the doors of opportunity so the disabled can be employed, thinking beyond traditional jobs?”

Before closing the forum, Sesno said he hoped that in four years, both presidential candidates would appear live at the forum.

LDA is proud to have been a part of this important event. This is another great example of how LDA works for you.


LDA Concerned about Graduation Rate Accountability

LDA has signed a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, along with about 30 education, civil rights, and disability organizations, on maintaining high school graduation rate accountability under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, currently known as No Child Left Behind, NCLB). The letter, organized by the Alliance for Excellent Education, expresses serious concerns that a significant number of states have received waivers of provisions of NCLB that are inconsistent with, or in violation of, several parts of regulations issued in 2008 linking strong accountability and improvement in high school graduation rates.

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Education issued regulations to strengthen graduation rate accountability to address concerns regarding state policies. These questionable policies included the use of inaccurate graduation rate calculations, no accountability for subgroup graduation rates, state graduation rate goals as low as 50 percent, and states allowing high schools to make adequate yearly progress with as little as 0.1 percent growth in graduation rates. The 2008 regulations addressed these concerns by requiring the use of the 4-year adjusted cohort graduation rate calculation for purposes of reporting and accountability, requiring annual graduation rate targets demonstrating continuous and substantial improvement, and including the performance of student subgroups in accountability determinations.

The Department’s waiver, or flexibility, policies keep the reporting requirements. However, in a review of the waiver applications, the Alliance for Excellent Education determined that several states have had waivers approved that inflate graduation rates by combining calculations of the graduation rate that include GEDs with the 4-year adjusted cohort rate, use alternative diplomas in their measure of high school completion, omit graduation rate accountability for student subgroups, and inappropriately use extended-year graduation rates. In addition, several states are not fully implementing the requirement that states requesting ESEA flexibility designate high schools with graduation rates under 60 percent as priority or focus schools [For specific information on priority and focus schools, see http://www.ed.gov/sites/default/files/demonstrating-meet-flex-definitions.pdf].

Now Representative George Miller (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, also has sent a letter to Secretary Duncan expressing the same concerns as the group letter. He points out that the Department has clarified, under the flexibility policies, “all accountability provisions that are not waived still apply. For example, SEAs must use a four-year adjusted cohort graduation rates, as set forth in 34 C.F.R. § 200.19(b), and disaggregate that rate for reporting and determining AYP.” Miller also notes, “Over the last decade, we have learned much about the critical role graduation rates play in measuring the quality of our nation’s schools. More importantly, we know the significant impact that increasing graduation rates will have on growing our economy and on the future economic security of those students who earn a diploma.”

LDA is tracking this issue very closely, as it could have a significant impact on students with specific learning disabilities. We want to accurately reflect how students with learning disabilities are doing in relation to their peers, but also to ensure more students with SLD get that very important high school diploma in order to move forward toward post-school education and/or employment.


Discussions Continue on Avoiding Sequestration

As LDA has reported over the last several months, an across-the-board cut of around 8 percent on all non-entitlement federal programs is set to occur in January 2013. These cuts, mandated in the 2011 Budget Control Act, are aimed at reducing the federal deficit. In a continuing effort to stave off these large cuts, a bipartisan group of eight senators has begun a round of closed-door meetings to try for a bipartisan agreement on a different path to deficit reduction.

The meetings will be led by Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) and will include the “Gang of Eight.” This group of senators has been working for months to find a plan to deal with the deficit, address the impending expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, and avoid sequestration. They hope to include in their proposal some revenue increases and structural changes in entitlement programs (for example, Medicare and Medicaid), similar to the $4 trillion deficit reduction plan put forward by the bipartisan Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, also known as the Simpson-Bowles plan.

In addition to the private meetings, the Gang of Eight also has held meetings with more than 30 other senators who have expressed interest in finding a compromise plan.

The other senators who are part of these discussions are Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL), retiring Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Michael Crapo (R-ID), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Mike Johanns (R-NE),and Michael Bennet (D-CO).


Principals Offer Framework for Evaluation

The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) have developed a framework for principal evaluation to be used as guidance to improve professional practice leading to increased student learning.The resulting product of the joint committee, which included researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the American Institutes for Research and practicing elementary and secondary principals, outlines seven essential features of sound evaluation practice. View the webpage | Read the executive summary (PDF) | Read the complete report (PDF)

Despite 30 years of research demonstrating the important role of principals in leading school improvement, enhancing teacher effectiveness, and building the foundation for student learning, evaluation of these key individuals has not reflected appropriate standards and practices. In fact, many principals do not receive meaningful evaluations.

The NAESP/NASSP task force identified seven essential research-based features of sound evaluation practice. Evaluation systems must

  • Be developed with principal input.
  • Be a part of a comprehensive system of support, including ongoing professional development, support for new principals, and recognition of advanced performance.
  • Accommodate local contexts, reflect years of experience, and be job specific.
  • Incorporate accepted standards of practice and be relevant to the principal’s current work.
  • Be collaborative, include multiple measures of performance, and provide accurate, valid, and reliable information.
  • Be transparent, be applied to all principals in a district or state, and place a high priority on outcomes principals control rather than those they have a limited or no ability to impact.
  • Provide results that inform the principal’s learning and progress.

The committee did not attempt to create a template for evaluation, but rather has produced appropriate guidelines that states or school districts can use to develop an effective and meaningful evaluation instrument.


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