budget adds

DOE will spend $78.6m in next 5 years on new database

The Department of Education is signing a $54.9 million contract with a firm called MAXIMUS to streamline the way it tracks services for students with disabilities. Right now, a paper system tracks the process of diagnosing and giving services to special education students, with results that both special education advocates and the department say are poor.

The new system will allow administrators and teachers to track these documents in a single place online. It will also be costly: The five-year contract is for $54.9, and the DOE expects extra attached costs like internal training programs so that principals can use the database will cost an additional $23.7 million over five years.

The DOE press release that went out on this earlier today includes unusually glowing remarks from the special education advocate Kim Sweet, who as the executive director of Advocates for Children has often criticized the DOE for failing to serve special education students adequately

Sweet’s statement:

“The Department of Education desperately needs a new system for tracking special education data. Under the current system they are unable to track their performance in providing essential services ot students with disabilities with any kind of accuracy. A new data system is essential to helping the Departmetn of Education improve its delivery of special education services and, we hope, will be a key step to holding the Department of Education accountable for the education of this vulnerable population.”

The contract was not a no-bid but was competitively bid. A law firm helped the department negotiate it pro bono.

Here’s the full press release, below the jump:


New System Will Enable More Timely, Accurate Delivery of Services to Students

New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein today announced that the Department
of Education will replace its aging special education data systems with a new
Web-based Special Education Student Information System (SESIS) that will enhance the
evaluation, placement, and case management of students with disabilities. The new
system will replace paper files-which can be lost or delayed in handling as students
move between schools-with electronic records for every student with disabilities
enrolled in or evaluated by the public school system. For the first time, the
Department of Education will be able to create an online Individualized Education
Program for every student with disabilities, and the system will also contain other
relevant information such as student referrals, evaluation reports, and physicians'
prescriptions. The online tracking system will allow principals and other school
personnel to access and update student files quickly and securely. The new system
will also allow the Department of Education to provide families of students with
disabilities with better and more timely information. The Department of Education
has selected MAXIMUS, a nationally-recognized educational technology provider,
through a competitive request for proposals process to design the system.

"The new data system gives us a much-needed upgrade in the way we perform vital
special education activities, and demonstrates our continuing commitment to
improving outcomes for our students with disabilities," Chancellor Klein said. "New
York City students receiving special education services have made gains in recent
years, and the new system will allow us to manage the resources dedicated to these
students more efficiently."

"The Special Education Student Information System is another step in our continuing
efforts to honor our obligation to improve our support for students with
disabilities in ways recommended by an independent review of special education
services," said Dr. Marcia V. Lyles, Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning.
"There is widespread enthusiasm for this project, which will clearly improve how we
provide services to students with disabilities."

"The Department of Education desperately needs a new system for tracking special
education data," said Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children.
"Under the current system they are unable to track their performance in providing
essential services to students with disabilities with any kind of accuracy. A new
data system is essential to helping the Department of Education improve its delivery
of special education services and, we hope, will be a key step to holding the
Department of Education accountable for the education of this vulnerable

MAXIMUS and the Department of Education have already begun to develop SESIS, and the
system will be installed in selected schools in the fall of 2009 and rolled out in
stages through the spring of 2011. The contract with MAXIMUS is for $54.9 million
over five years. The Department of Education expects to spend an additional $23.7
million in internal costs during that time. Approximately 80 percent of the total
cost will be covered with capital funding.

            The Department of Education was represented pro bono during the
contracting process by attorneys in the New York office of the law firm
of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, led by partner Stephen D. Kahn, and
associates Caroline P. Geiger and Vidgis Bronder.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.