Monday Reading List: Gun Violence, Chicago Schools, and Special Education

A man with a gun killed dozens of people in Texas yesterday:

A gunman clad in all black, with a ballistic vest strapped to his chest and a military-style rifle in his hands, opened fire on parishioners at a Sunday service at a small Baptist church in rural Texas, killing at least 26 people and turning this tiny town east of San Antonio into the scene of the country’s newest mass horror. The gunman was identified as Devin Patrick Kelley .. He had served in the Air Force at a base in New Mexico but was court-martialed in 2012 on charges of assaulting his wife and child. He was sentenced to 12 months’ confinement and received a “bad conduct” discharge in 2014, according to Ann Stefanek, the chief of Air Force media operations.

Wow. That sounds like the exact kind of person who should NEVER have access to a gun. Ever.

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America has grown weak on the project of curtailing gun violence. The spineless leaders in Congress - like Paul Ryan - will never do anything. The people must take some power back. A small group of us launched a campaign recently - #PoliticizeMyDeath - with the aim of shifting the terms of the debate. Here's some language from our pledge:

The people who have signed this pledge agree that their deaths should be politicized, in the event that they become victims of gun violence. Each person on this list realizes that easy access to guns is a fatal flaw in American culture, which causes us to have more mass casualty events than any other country in the world.  We're sick of dancing around the issue, and should any of us unintentionally make the ultimate sacrifice, we hope that those who survive us leverage our tragic ends to advance a political agenda that stops the violence.

Visit the site, sign the pledge, and engage your families in a conversation about how gun violence is making America weaker.

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In happier news, Lauren FitzPatrick of the Chicago Sun Times writes that the much beleaguered Chicago Public Schools are the most improved in the country:

Chicago Public Schools students have made the fastest academic progress of the 100 largest school districts in the country, with all racial groups making similar improvements. That’s according to a new analysis by Stanford University researcher Sean F. Reardon, who told a gathering of Chicago’s educational brain trust Thursday that test scores for the average Chicago student went up by about six grades in the five years between third and eighth grade. At each grade level, CPS students’ scores also rose faster from 2009 to 2014 than the rest of the nation’s on average, about two-thirds of a grade level locally versus about one-sixth. And the results generally held across racial and ethnic groups, with Hispanic students making even faster progress, said Reardon, using the Center for Education Policy’s database of hundreds of millions of standardized test scores for every third- through eighth-grader in the country.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: measurable improvement is critical in schools. Test scores are not the only thing that matters, certainly, but we must have ways of knowing whether or not educational institutions are educating children at the level that our communities so desperately need.

Finally today, Sarah Butrymowicz and Jackie Mader of The Hechinger Report examine graduation statistics for students with disabilities:

There are 6.6 million public school children enrolled in special education in the United States, 13 percent of all public school students. Kids like Michael [McLaughlin] make up the vast majority of them. Their disabilities shouldn’t keep them from achieving the same standards as their peers — and experts estimate that up to 90 percent of students with disabilities are capable of graduating high school fully prepared to tackle college or a career if they receive proper support along the way. Yet, just 65 percent of special education students graduate on time, well below the 83 percent four-year rate for American students overall. Many of those that do earn their diplomas find themselves unprepared for the real world. After high school, students with disabilities have lower college graduation rates than their peers and earn less once they join the workforce.
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Special education is complicated, and you should read the whole piece gain a deeper understanding of the factors at play. That said, most schools aim to teach the "average" child, while making modest adjustments for students whose needs, abilities, and/or academic pace fall outside of that average. Special education, more than anything, provides a framework under which students whose educational needs fell outside of that average could get the services necessary to thrive. Often, those students do not get what they need, leading to these abysmal graduation rates. It's worth saying, however, that no student is perfectly "average," and that the instruction and services necessary to reach students with special needs are bound to be a net positive experience for all children.

Have a thoughtful week ...