Sunday, December 21, 2008

Special Education Update at Panel for Educational Policy

On Monday we finally had the session on Special Education canceled last month in favor of Jim Liebman’s tedious defense of the ARIS database system.

Several members of the Citywide Council on Special Education (CCSE) were present – John Englert, Patricia Connelly, Ellen McHugh. Apologies to anyone I missed. Linda Wernikoff oversees special education initiatives at DOE. Click here for the Powerpoint she delivered (pdf format).

She also provided copies of a new manual of special education standard operating procedures. I noted that the opening pages explain how more than 18 different entities are involved in special education and parents often are frustrated in their attempts to get the services required by their child’s IEP. I asked Ms. Wernikoff who exactly was accountable when services were not provided. She pointed to the principals and explained the DOE’s effort to devolve authority to them. I explained the difficulty in holding principals accountable when the District superintendents have been turned into Senior Achievement Facilitators and sent all over the city to show principals how to look at reports. The Citywide Council on Special Educaiton has proposed creating a senior-level executive to oversee special education reporting directly to the Chancellor. When I raised this proposal with Chancellor Klein, he replied that he didn’t see it as necessary.

My colleague from Queens, Dmytro Fedkowskyj, asked an important question on special education placements. He had heard that parents were being told they had to accept the first placement option offered by DOE. Linda Wernikoff assured Dmytro that there had been no change in policy and that DOE would still work with parents to find an appropriate placement.

Many people offered highly critical testimony during the public comment section of the agenda. John Englert, president of CCSE, explained how the rosy view offered by DOE contrasted sharply with State Comptroller DiNapoli's audit findings showing thousands of children do not receive the services they require. Jesse Mojica of the Bronx Borough President's office cited results of his survey indicating only 6% of calls placed to DOE requesting assisstance with special education issues were resolved.


Anonymous said...

Councilman Liu continues to justify mayoral control of the schools by citing the need for “accountability.” But accountability --- which boils down to the ability to affix blame --- is totally meaningless as long as a Mayor suffers no consequences when he makes mistakes.

True, the City Council holds public hearings when the DOE goofs, but ultimately the Council can disclaim responsibility and walk away. The Mayor simply can choose to ignore criticism, especially when he expects to be re-elected anyway.

The last time New York had true checks and balances --- and the only time others could get a mayor to change unpopular policy --- was when the Mayor had to share power with the borough presidents, the Comptroller, and the President of the City Council, who had Board of Estimate votes the Mayor often needed.

Until the State legislature --- not the Mayor or the Council --- convenes a charter revision commission, New Yorkers will be stuck with the meaningless concept of “accountability.”

The one chance we’ll have to change this is to convince our State officials to sunset mayoral control of the schools. The problem will be to find elected officials willing to take responsibility, and ensure that shared responsibility doesn’t doom the schools to underfinancing.


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