Benetech Inclusive AI Initiatives Break down Barriers to STEM

PALO ALTO, Calif. — June 17, 2022 —Benetech, the leading software for social good nonprofit, today announced two significant AI initiatives to reduce barriers to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education and employment for people with disabilities and learning and thinking differences. The programs, supported by General Motors (GM) and Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative of Eric and Wendy Schmidt, are focused on leveraging AI to make complex visuals, graphs, and equations in science and math educational materials accessible to people with dyslexia, vision loss, and other reading barriers. This technology will be used to enhance the accessibility of STEM education materials for students with reading barriers and empower other education stakeholders, including teachers, publishers, researchers, and students themselves, to improve the accessibility of their own materials. 

“Betting early on people and organizations addressing big challenges is one of our core guiding principles,” said Kumar Garg, Vice President of Partnerships, at Schmidt Futures. “Math literacy is essential for a 21st century STEM education, the foundation to compete for jobs of the future. Benetech’s vision to make tools that can provide new pathways to make STEM education accessible will transform the livelihoods of millions of students.” 

Benetech brings two decades of expertise leveraging new technology to make reading and learning accessible for people with reading barriers, at scale, through its Bookshare initiative. However, transforming STEM education materials into accessible formats poses a significant challenge. Textbooks have complex formats, full of charts, graphs, and equations that must be manually transformed into accessible formats. The average Math textbook has over 5,000 equations, and it can take three to four months for a human to transform a print math book into accessible formats that can be properly read by a screen reader. This is a significant obstacle for students with reading barriers. …Read More

Leading Education Organizations Applaud Spending Increase for Social and Emotional Learning in FY2022 Consolidated Appropriations Act

March 17, 2022 — The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and Committee for Children strongly applaud the passage of the FY2022 Consolidated Appropriations Act which provides increased funding for a Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Initiative to support SEL and “whole child” approaches to education.

This critical funding for SEL is part of a $2 billion increase over the fiscal year 2021 enacted level for students’ learning and development in K-12 education, including students with disabilities. Related to SEL, the bill provides:

  • $82 million for evidence-based, field-initiated innovations that address student social, emotional, and cognitive needs (increase of $15 million) within the Education Innovation and Research program;
  • $85 million for the Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) program with a priority for teacher professional development and pathways into teaching that provide a strong foundation in implementing SEL and “whole child” strategies (increase of $5 million);
  • $111 million within School Safety National Activities for Mental Health Services Professional Demonstration Grants and School-Based Mental Health Services Grants, to help LEAs directly increase the number of mental health and child development experts in schools (increase of $95 million); and
  • $75 million for Full-Service Community schools to provide comprehensive services and expand evidence-based models that meet the holistic needs of children, families, and communities (increase of $45 million).

“Policymakers join in the growing support from educators, parents, students, and employers in advancing students’ overall well-being and success – academically, socially, and emotionally,” said Dr. Aaliyah A. Samuel, President and CEO of CASEL. “We believe these resources will support and expand safe, supportive, and inclusive learning environments for our nation’s learners.”…Read More

Virtual schools can serve students with special needs—and do it well

The pandemic brought special education to the forefront of the dialogue about education, with the media focus mainly directed at sharing stories of students separated from the in-school supports that they had come to rely upon, and parents struggling to plug the gaps.

While the challenges were undeniable, there was also a more quietly growing chorus of stories from parents whose children experienced virtual education for the first time and found that the personalization and environmental stability it brought led to positive outcomes. When it comes to serving students with disabilities, a fully virtual school experience may, at the outset, seem like a less than ideal or even an improbable concept. But there can be compelling benefits.

“When I first began working with students virtually, I was skeptical that the therapeutic environment could be replicated online,” said Robin Corder, EdS, NCSP, who won the Idaho School Psychologist of the Year Award in 2020. “I was very wrong about that.”…Read More

5 ways to help special education students manage testing anxiety

Testing anxiety shows itself in different ways for different students. It can range from refusing to do work, crying, hiding in the bathroom, and verbal aggression to physical behavior like flipping tables and desks or hitting school staff. Some students avoid school on test days, and many suffer from symptoms such as stomachaches or headaches.

In special education programs, many of our students’ disabilities are closely related to anxiety, and testing can be a trigger that heightens those negative thoughts and feelings.

It’s a common belief that testing anxiety affects only older students, such as those taking high school or college placement exams. However, testing anxiety affects students of all ages. In fact, studies have shown that test anxiety is actually the worst in the middle grades. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, this anxiety can stem from a fear of failure, negative testing experiences, or feeling unprepared.…Read More

3 ways to support students with disabilities post-pandemic

Students with disabilities tend to show greater learning losses over the summer, and at times grow at academically higher rates than peers without disabilities, according to a new study showing detailed insight on academic growth among students with disabilities.

The new research, Understanding differential growth during school years and summers for students in special education, comes from NWEA, a nonprofit research-based provider of assessment solutions and learning services.

Using a five-year cohort of 4,228 students (kindergarten through fourth grade) in 109 U.S. public schools that voluntarily provided student-level special education program information, the research study examined how academic achievement and growth in achievement compared between students with and without disabilities. (Disability category was not available at the student-level. The study used “ever being in special education services” as a proxy for students with a disability.)…Read More

7 ways to focus stimulus spending on students with disabilities

Schools and districts are poised to receive an influx of federal dollars that should support students with disabilities and make equity a priority, ensuring that outdated and ineffective special education systems are updated and held to high-quality standards, according to a new report from the Center for Learner Equity.

Students with disabilities and those with special needs are some of the worst-hit during the pandemic, with virtual learning preventing students from accessing vital in-school therapies and programs.

In March, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan, which invests $130 billion into education–including $3 billion for IDEA–and gives schools and districts access to funds to directly meet student needs, including students with disabilities and those impacted by socio-economic constraints.…Read More

Super Duper Publications Makes Finding Autism Resources Easy

According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately one out of every 54 children has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, making it one of the most common developmental disabilities in the USA. To help families, teachers, and providers quickly and easily find information and educational materials to support autistic children, Super Duper Publications has created a new Autism Resources section on its website.

The new section provides access to:

  • Super Duper’s Free Autism Handy Handouts. Informational handouts for parents and teachers address topics such as Autism – the Basics, and Autism – It May Not Be What You Think.
  • A Tests section with more than a dozen trusted autism assessments including the REEL-4 Receptive-Expressive Emergent Language Test and the TOPL-2 Test of Pragmatic Language.             
  • Super Duper’s autism-related games, cards, books, worksheets, programs and resources, reinforcers, and supplies to support skills in: Language & Pragmatics, Motor Skills, Emotions & Behavior, Sensory Activities, and Social Skills.

Games include the Webber Functional Communication Game, and Webber Story Time Communication Boards, which support communication skills for students with limited verbal skills.…Read More

Staying Connected During COVID-19 [Teacher Spotlight]: Karina Tran

In partnership with eSchool News, Illuminate Education is spotlighting teachers in a series recognizing educators, the way they have moved instruction online during COVID-19, and how they have prioritized the needs of their students.

Karina Tran
SDC K/1st-Moderate Severe Disabilities
Woodcrest Elementary School
Fullerton School District

“Don’t compare yourself to others, and just stay true to who you are as a teacher, and it will all fall into place.”…Read More

5 things to avoid saying to students suffering from anxiety

[Editor’s note: Don’t miss our companion piece, “5 things to say to students suffering from anxiety.”]

Currently, schools are being inundated with cases of anxiety in young adults. Although the dramatic increase in attention being paid to the illness has been beneficial to those suffering, the difficulty lies in the fact that everyone thinks they understand anxiety and how to overcome it.

As a public high school administrator, I lead interventions for students in poor academic standing. Although many students have logistical circumstances keeping them from being successful—homelessness, employment, learning disabilities, etc.—many of them are school avoidant because of anxiety that is, quite frankly, debilitating.…Read More

Beware of ransomware: Here’s how to protect your district

A new, disturbing pattern has cropped back up that is reminiscent of some nasty behavior from the early days of Internet nefarious exploits: targeting schools and students and the innocent. Ransomware attacks have been making headlines in recent months—particularly as a threat to K-12. Both Roseburg (OR )Public Schools and Leominster (MA) Public Schools were two of the latest victims of cyber-abuse.

A history of hacking
21 years ago, I got a call at my first internet security startup company (Signal 9 Solutions, later acquired by McAfee) asking for help; a woman’s son had cognitive challenges and disabilities, and she thought he was the victim of hacking. She had seen a news piece about cyberhacking, and she thought this might be a case.

At the time, we focused on enterprise sales and cryptographic solutions, but we had accidentally invented the personal firewall for telecommuting, put a beta version of this new standalone personal firewall on our website, and started a forum talking about it.…Read More