Weekly News Brief 9/2-9/9 Texas expects thousands more special education students | A little-known program has lifted 9th grade performance in virtually every type of school

News Clip


Texas expects thousands more special education students. But where are the teachers? – By Alejandra Matos, The Houston Chronicle

Thousands of additional children will soon be eligible for special education services after state officials eliminated an illegal cap that artificially tamped down Texas special education rolls for a decade.

But even if the state fully funds the estimated $3 billion cost of providing that extra instruction, educators say one big question remains: Where will schools find up to 9,000 new special education teachers?

Schools already have a hard time recruiting special education teachers, so much so that the state offers incentives such as student loan forgiveness programs. But those incentives aren’t enough to meet the demand, leaving schools across the state struggling every year to find enough teachers to provide specialized services to students. Now as the number of students needing extra services is expected to rise dramatically, finding educators will be even more difficult, state education officials and advocacy groups say.

“Nationally, we do not have enough special education teachers in the country,” said Penny Schwinn, the Texas Education Agency’s deputy commissioner for academics. “Texas is no different. We have shortages at the local level and in almost every state, and that's because it's a very high-needs field. It's a very challenging job.”

A 2016 Houston Chronicle investigation and a subsequent federal audit found that the Texas Education Agency illegally set an 8.5 percent benchmark that was a de facto cap on the number of students receiving special education services. The cap was in place for more than a decade, and was well below the national average of 13 percent.


There’s a school improvement model that has gotten consistent results in large schools, small schools, high-performing ones, low-performing ones, those with large achievement gaps, diverse schools, homogenous ones, and schools that are rural, urban and suburban. An impressive track record of hard evidence has made it the only program to earn three levels of competitive grant funding from the federal government since 2010.

But you’ve probably never heard of it.

The Building Assets, Reducing Risks program, known as BARR, was started by a Minneapolis school counselor in 1999, and remained in relative obscurity for a decade. Since 2010, its creator, Angela Jerabek, has sought research support to test the BARR program in other schools. The BARR mantra – “Same Students. Same Teachers. Better Results.” – has led Jerabek to aggressively seek out schools in different regions, with different demographics, to test her theory. So far, it holds up.

At large, diverse Hemet High School in urban southern California, this program helped close the achievement gap between ninth-grade Latino students and their peers within two years. At mid-sized Noble High School in predominantly white, rural southern Maine, ninth-graders participating in the program were absent half as much as their peers who weren’t exposed to it. At large, majority-Latino Bryan Adams High School in Dallas, the number of freshmen failing classes dropped from 44 percent to 28 percent in one year.

No matter where a school starts, the BARR model seems to make it better, and it does so without hiring all new teachers, transforming the school curriculum, or spending a lot of money – though it does require a strong commitment in time.


Is Detroit ‘the best city in America for teachers’? City leaders are giving recruits a few more reasons to say ‘yes’ – By Koby Levin, Chalkbeat

Hiring teachers in Detroit has long been fiercely competitive, with schools sweetening their offers with unusual financial perks in an effort to recruit from a shrinking pool of certified teachers.

Now a citywide initiative funded by Detroit philanthropies and businesses is bringing education leaders together around the idea that a bigger pool of teachers will lessen the pressure on every school in the city. Teach 313, announced Thursday morning by a who’s who of Detroit leaders, will mount a nationwide recruitment campaign to find new teachers while offering discounted cars and home loans to educators who already teach in the city.

The initiative, named after Detroit’s area code, is intended to “make sure that every child in the city of Detroit has a qualified leader sitting in front of them,” Tonya Allen, president of the Skillman Foundation, one of the project’s funders, said. She added: “We are committed to making Detroit the best city in America for teachers.”

Teacher hiring has become a hot button issue in Detroit, where charter schools claim a larger share of students in Detroit than in almost any other American city. The resulting competition — combined with an overall shortage of certified educators — can leave schools uncertain of how many teachers will show up when summer’s done, but school leaders haven’t previously put their heads together about the issue.



Gamification can help education — here’s how – By Matthew Glotzbach, VentureBeat

Teachers and parents hear it over and over again: “make learning fun” to keep kids engaged. Gamified education apps for use outside of the classroom have proliferated, leading students to expect gamification when they’re back inside of the classroom, too. ABCmouse is one great example for the youngest of students. Just recently, Google announced Grasshopper, an app that teaches coding to beginners, offering lessons through puzzles that make the topic seem less intimidating.

Discussing the benefits of gamification for learning and retention is a tricky topic because doing it successfully requires a delicate balance of science and art. It’s not easy to build something that is both entertaining and educational. Combine people’s short attention spans with an obvious reliance on technology and personal devices, however, and the argument for gamification as a constructive learning technique is one worth paying attention to.

The priority for creating an effective education-based game should be on the design of the learning dimensions first, and the entertainment value second. As a whole, this process needs to ensure focus on the core learning objective, and the gamification aspect (i.e., points, rewards, etc.) should support that goal. An intelligently-structured game serves up the information, identifies comprehension and difficulties, and knows how and when to proceed so that students are actually learning the material, rather than just filling time.

Of note, well-designed game experience should avoid rewarding players for guessing. Think of the problem-solving skills you encourage when a player must start a game level over to figure out what they did incorrectly, rather than serve them up answers until they click on the correct path simply based on process of elimination.

Collaborative game experiences are key. According to Cornell University’s Center for Teaching Innovation, collaborative learning not only helps promote understanding of diverse perspectives, but also serves as preparation for future social and employment situations.