Feb 3, 2018 by

“I Do Not Believe Texas Is Deliberately Keeping Students from Receiving Special Education Services”

By Donna Garner



Recently the news media has been full of articles referencing the problems in Texas (and across the nation) regarding the large numbers of Special Education (SE) students in our public schools and the controversial capping of those numbers.


A concerned parent asked me to share my thoughts on an article written in the Texas Observer (dated 1.19.18 – link posted at the bottom of this article) about the Special Education issue in Texas.  She knows I am 76,  taught in Texas classrooms for 33+ years, and have been very active in education issues since the 1980’s.


The following are the comments I sent back to her, and I gave her permission to share them widely:  




I have actually been very pleased with Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath’s leadership.  I did not start out that way because of the problems that occurred on the Dallas ISD School Board while he was a member. However, as time went on after he became the Comm. of Ed., I saw that he is very teachable; and soon, he became a huge advocate for the Type #1 vs. Type #2 philosophy of education.


Type #1 means the curriculum standards are traditional/knowledge-based/academic, emphasize back-to-the-basics core knowledge and skills that grow in depth and complexity from one grade level to the next, are specific for each grade level (or course), and can be tested largely through objective questions that have right-or-wrong answers. Type #2 means subjectivity, emphasis on feelings/ opinions/personal beliefs, relativism, a de-emphasis on facts, and assessments that are largely graded subjectively.


It was Comm. Morath who helped shepherd the new English/ Language Arts / Reading (ELAR) curriculum standards (TEKS)  — passed in the fall of 2017 — through the process as he kept advocating for Type #1 curriculum standards.


Our new ELAR/TEKS (to be implemented in classrooms during the fall of 2018) are actually quite good if Texas can get teachers trained and dedicated to implementing them with fidelity:



The point that everyone (including the Texas Observer reporter) is missing is “Why are so many students placed in Special Education?”  The answer is very simple and has not changed in 40 years.  They are not being taught to read correctly with phonemic awareness/decoding skills (phonics) taught directly and systematically!  Therefore, multitudes of students are being labeled “Special Education (SE)” when they are actually “reading disabled.” 




Dr. G. Reid Lyon

The United States has the empirical National Institutes of Health (NIH) reading research based upon cognitive progression (led by Dr. Reid Lyon under Pres. G. W. Bush), and the conclusions and strategies in that have never changed because the brain has never changed – and won’t ever change. God created the brain and its awesome qualities, but educators continue to ignore the cognitive brain research. 


The whole language/balanced literacy/Guided Reading crowd have grabbed the teacher training programs and will not let go.  Publishers have produced the digitized curriculum that supports exactly the wrong way to teach reading.




Comm. Morath is trying to emphasize correct reading instruction and has tied reading directly into the new STAAR report card given to the students, parents, and educators.  Our new ELAR/TEKS have a solid basis in the NIH reading research, but the problem (as always) is getting the teachers to learn how to teach reading correctly and then to do it.  Administrators have to be forced to purchase the right instructional materials (IM’s) to be used in classrooms, but the vendors/lobbyists are only after the almighty dollar and do not know nor care a thing about making sure their products are aligned with the NIH reading research.   


Several months ago, Comm.  Morath became aware that the directions given to publishers (called the Q&A) about the new ELAR/TEKS contained exactly the wrong statements about reading, and he aggressively helped to correct the incorrect wording. We have not yet seen what the publishers are going to produce for the new ELAR/TEKS, but that will be coming out soon. Hopefully school districts will be able to put good instructional materials in front of our Texas students. Then if teachers can be trained and expected to teach them, we will see a reduction of students being labeled SE because they won’t be “reading disabled”!




The Special Ed debacle in Texas was a progression of misinterpreted decisions and of wrong instructional materials being used for many years. Comm. Morath inherited administrators and Texas schools with large numbers of non-readers (because of the reasons mentioned above). Instead of those administrators purchasing the right IM’s and then requiring their teachers to teach them (according to the ELAR/TEKS adopted in May 2008 which actually contained strong phonemic awareness/decoding skills elements), those administrators instead purchased CSCOPE/Common-Core-lite IM’s.  The result: more students being mislabeled “SE” who are actually “reading disabled”  




As the numbers of mislabeled SE students grew across America and in Texas for the same reasons previously mentioned, the U. S. Dept. of Education (USDOE) under Pres. G. W. Bush set a cap on SE in an effort to try to force administrators to make sure reading was taught according to the NIH research.  Unfortunately, Obama got elected; and all of that NIH reading initiative effort was trashed.


Over the last eight years under Obama, Common Core (i.e., CSCOPE in Texas) took over which is definitely not based upon the NIH reading research.  In fact, there were not even any emergent reading teachers nor experts included in the group that wrote the Common Core Standards; and those standards were not meant by Obama to increase academic achievement. They were meant to indoctrinate America’s youth into the social justice agenda.  Since Pres. Trump’s election, we have certainly seen the fruits of the Obama era curse present itself in the many riots and protests of deceived/indoctrinated Common Core-educated young people around the United States.  


(Case in point: On the morning of 1.29.18, New York University students were asked what they thought about Pres. Trump’s State of the Union address.  They parroted back such things as, “Hateful. It was racial language. I can’t believe he said that.” The only problem is that Pres. Trump did not give his State of the Union Address until Tuesday night, 1.30.18.)




Back to SE in Texas:  Texas followed the U. S. Dept. of Education’s lead and tried to cap the SE numbers. This further frustrated the parents of these mislabeled students (many of whom are not actually SE students but are reading disabled), and large groups of parents got together and demanded change. I certainly do not blame them as they were the ones who had to watch their precious children night after night suffering under the wrong type of reading instruction.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) thought they had located a start-up company (SPEDx) that was going to base their IM’s on solid research using SE data from around the country. The problem with this idea is that the SE data was to be gathered without parental permission (and was probably personally identifiable although the company undoubtedly said it was not). It is a reasonable idea to base instructional materials upon good data, but the problem occurs when that data gathering puts students’ personal information at risk.




Unfortunately, about that time Laurie Kash was hired at the TEA as the Special Education Director; and evidently she was not thoroughly vetted. When her past history in Oregon was widely publicized across the U. S., the TEA knew they had to dismiss her because she had lost the trust of Texans.  She did leave but decided to fire a parting shot by complaining to the USDOE about possible “bid rigging” at the TEA involving the SPEDx contract.   


Because there probably was not another company in the country doing the type of research as SPEDx, the TEA undoubtedly chose that company because it met the parameters of what Comm. Morath and the TEA were trying to do which was to base instructional materials on solid research gathered from a wide spectrum of SE students.




Sad to say, the USDOE presently has poor leadership; and it is still basing its decisions on the junk research done under the Obama administration.  Recently the USDOE swept into Texas and didn’t have a clue about what Morath and the TEA were actually trying to do (which was to find research-based IM’s that would work to teach all students to read, thus reducing the number of mislabeled SE students). 


Unfortunately, the frustrated SE parents’ claims and the hue and cry from the media (which always loves to create a controversy) have taken control of the narrative.  The TEA is being pushed back to Square One where we were back in the mid-90’s in which there will be no cap on the numbers of SE children, and administrators/teachers will NOT be forced to teach reading correctly. 





Texas’ only saving grace will be the instructional materials based upon the new ELAR/TEKS – to be implemented in the fall of 2018.  If those reading materials are actually well-grounded on the teaching of phonemic awareness/decoding skills and if teachers are trained to teach them well and thoroughly until reading proficiency is reached, we will see the numbers of “reading disabled” students drop; and they will no longer be mislabeled as Special Education.  




Certainly there will always be those students who are biologically, neurologically, and legitimately labeled as Special Education.  However, by improving students’ reading abilities so that they are not mislabeled as Special Education, there will be fewer legitimately labeled SE students per classroom.  The result is that teachers will be more able to give those SE students the individualized instruction they need and deserve.




Ed. Comm. Morath gave his comments to the Texas State Board of Education on Tuesday, 1.29.18, and he told of the TEA’s exciting plans to roll out the new ELAR/TEKS professional development. The TEA staff will give careful attention to defining statewide exactly what the “verbs and nouns” in the new ELAR/TEKS mean and what they look like in authentic instruction (videos of teachers teaching the elements are being produced), in student expectations, and in test/assessment questions. 


Brand new test bank questions based upon the new ELAR/TEKS will be generated for the STAAR/End-of-Course tests rather than trying to force-fit “old test bank” questions. This means that if teachers work diligently to implement the new ELAR/TEKS curriculum standards into their classrooms, their students will inherently do better on the STAAR/EOC’s.



1.19.18 — “Texas Education Agency Fails Thousands in Need of Special Education Services” – by Christian McPhate – Texas Observer  http://www.dallasobserver.com/news/texas-education-agency-breaks-federal-law-excluding-thousands-from-special-education-10258711


2.1.18 – “Texas denied thousands of students special ed services. Does the policy go back to George W. Bush’s presidency?” – by Aliyya Swaby – Texas Tribunehttps://www.texastribune.org/2018/02/01/federal-assessment-cap-texas/

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