Friday, October 23, 2015

Today: Board of Ed. Blocks Public from Hearing. Why are almost 20% of teachers at Special Ed. School not Highly Qualified?

96.8 percent of MCPS core academic classes were being taught by teachers designated as highly qualified...
At RICA [a MCPS school for students with special education needs], 19.4% of the core academic classes were taught by a teacher who was not highly qualified.

Date: Fri. Oct 23, 2015

This morning (October 23, 2015), a hearing examiner, appointed by the members of the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Board of Education, will begin conducting a three-day teacher termination hearing for a MCPS special education teacher.  This teacher requested an open hearing.  On Wednesday (Oct. 21), the teacher was informed that Attorney Judith Bresler, the outside legal counsel for the MCPS BOE, is not agreeing to an open hearing.  For those of you who may not be familiar with Attorney Bresler, she and/or her law firm Carney, Kelehan, Bresler, Bennett & Scherr LLP, received $622,578 for legal services from MCPS between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015.

I am choosing to publicize this hearing on McNeeds because during the 2014-2015 school year, this special education teacher was assigned to teach English 9 and Social Studies 7 at the John Gildner Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents (R.I.C.A.), a separate special education day school operated by MCPS in Rockville, Maryland.  This teacher, whose certification is as a generic special education teacher, was the teacher of record for 3 classes in English and 2 classes in Social Studies.  In January 2015, this teacher was instructing approximately 25 students.

What is extremely troublesome is that the staff in the Office of Human Resources Development (OHRD) and the Office of the Deputy Superintendent of School Support and Improvement (OSSI) knew that this teacher was not highly qualified to teach either Social Studies or English when the teacher was assigned to RICA in June 2014.  This teacher has no formal undergraduate or graduate coursework in either of these subjects, yet MCPS OHRD + OSSI found it necessary to assign her to teach these classes at RICA.

According to the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act  (IDEA 2004), every state must assign a highly qualified teacher and paraprofessional to our country’s classrooms.

The following Teacher Quality Requirements currently appear on the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) website:

1.      Beginning the 2002-2003 school year, all new teachers hired in schools receiving Title I funds must meet the federal government qualification of being “highly qualified.”

2.      Beginning the 2005-2006 school year, all teachers in all schools must meet the federal government qualification of being “highly qualified.”

Please note that even though in the state of Maryland, ALL teachers in ALL schools, not just Title 1 schools, MUST meet the federal criteria associated with the Highly Qualified (HQ) designation, there are exceptions.  In Maryland, this designation is only applicable to teachers who provide instruction in the following core academic subjects (CAS) for which students receive core content credit:

Art, music, dance, drama/theater
Social studies: civics and government, history, geography, economics
Reading or language arts

Maryland teachers who provide instruction in non-Core Academic Subjects (i.e., Agriculture, bookkeeping, accounting, business, cooperative education, health education, health occupations, family and consumer sciences, technology education, marketing education, trades and industry, computer science, driver education, journalism, outdoor education, physical education, psychology, sociology, speech, business data/processing, and library science) are not yet required to meet the federal “highly qualified” requirements.

Because “special education is not a core academic subject under NCLB guidelines”, special education teachers, according to MSDE and NCLB, must meet the federal “highly qualified” standards if they are the teacher of record (responsible for the academic grade) for students in core academic subjects.

The expectations are that the highly qualified teacher (HQT) will be fully licensed or certified to teach and that they demonstrate subject matter knowledge and competence in the core academic subjects that they teach (20 U.S.C. §1412(a) (14), 34 CFR §§200.25, .55, and .56, and 34 CFR §§300.18 and .156).

The IDEA regulations establish requirements for special education teachers in general, as well as those teaching core academic and multiple subjects (34 CFR §§200.56, 300.18, and 300.156). Core academic subjects means English, reading or language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography (34 CFR §300.10). Being highly qualified means that a special education teacher has obtained full State certification as a special education teacher and holds at least a bachelor’s degree (34 CFR §300.18).

All special educators need to be highly qualified as defined in IDEA, but special educators are not required to demonstrate subject matter competence in any core academic subject, if they are only

(1) providing consultation services to other teachers, such as adapting curricula, using behavioral supports and interventions, or selecting appropriate accommodations for children with study skills or organizational skills,   or

(2) reinforcing instruction that the child has already received from a highly qualified teacher in that core academic subject.

{Source:  34 CFR §§200.56, 300.18, and 300.156 and Questions and Answers on Highly Qualified Teachers Serving Children with Disabilities, United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), January 2007}.

For the purpose of this listserv entry, I include the above information because the certified generic special education teacher who is the subject of today’s teacher termination hearing does not meet the Highly Qualified Teacher status as defined by IDEA 2004 and NCLB .  

What is even more disturbing is that in June 2014 and June 2015, then Superintendent Joshua Starr and Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers, who was the chief operating officer in 2014, respectively communicated in a memoranda to members of the MCPS Board a summary report submitted to MSDE that detailed the “number and percentage of core academic classes in MCPS being taught by teachers designated as highly qualified”.

According to data compiled by MCPS staff in the Office of Shared Accountability,
96.8 percent of MCPS core academic classes were being taught by teachers designated as highly qualifiedas of December 1, 2013.  Of those classes, 3.2% were taught by a teacher who was not highly qualified.  That same year, 4.3%  of the core academic classes at RICA were taught by a teacher who was not highly qualified.  As of December 1, 2014, 96.9 % of MCPS core academic classes were taught by teachers designated as highly qualified.  Of those classes, 3.1% were taught by a teacher who was not highly qualified.  At RICA, 19.4% of the core academic classes were taught by a teacher who was not highly qualified.  Both of those reports include information for all MCPS schools.  The reports are located at the following links:

Perhaps by refusing to agree to an open hearing, which the special education teacher requested, the members of the MCPS BOE and their legal counsel are attempting to conceal this horrendous practice:

That one of our most vulnerable student populations, our children with special needs, DO NOT warrant a teacher who has the highly qualified teacher designation to teach the core academic classes -- courses that they need in order to obtain a Maryland State Diploma and benefit from post-secondary opportunities.

What I do not want is to leave anyone with the impression that the only individuals who are capable of teaching core academic classes are those with the highly qualified teacher status.  Many capable individuals who may lack the professional education coursework credits required for state certifications do possess credentials and competencies necessary to teach  core academic subjects.  I know this from my own experience when my daughter had a long-term substitute teacher who was employed to teach Algebra 1 because the “teacher of record” was on maternity leave.  The substitute teacher for that 8th grade class was a licensed civil engineer extremely qualified to teach Algebra 1.

When the teacher termination hearing begins on tomorrow, that teacher’s professional certification is going to be scrutinized.  The decisions of the OHRD and OSSI personnel who assigned this teacher to teach those classes at RICA will be closely examined at the hearing.

From my perspective and what I personally know about this matter, this is not the type of information Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers and the MCPS employees who act on his behalf want the public to know.  An open hearing would have allowed interested members of the community to witness firsthand 

1.      MCPS practices that academically harm our children with special needs; and
2.      The “seedy” (fraudulent) side of the MCPS/MCEA Peer Assistance + Review System.

If you are enraged about what I have stated here, contact the members of the Montgomery County Board of Education and demand that they explain why OHRD and OSSI employees find it necessary to assign teachers, especially targeted special education teachers, to core academic classes they are neither competent nor Highly Qualified to teach.  For those of you who want to attend this hearing, voice your disapproval to MCPS BOE members and let them know that this hearing should be open to anyone who wants to come.

If any of you know of parents of children with special needs at RICA and they are not members of this listserv, feel free to distribute this  listserv post to  those parents and any other individuals, organizations, and media outlets who are interested in the academic well-being of ALL children enrolled in Montgomery County Public Schools.

I apologize for the length of this “conversation” and thank you for your assistance.

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