Sunday, January 10, 2016

Tension over School Discipline Part II

In my last post, Tension over School Discipline, (Part I of this series of posts), I wrote about the changeover in St. Paul school board members resulting, in part, from discipline concerns in St. Paul. The replacement of board members resulted, in part, because teachers and parents were fed up with the failure of district disciplinary policies to protect students and teachers from classroom and school disruptions.  In that post, I explained some of the reasons why school districts like St. Paul are trying to reduce out of school suspensions and replace the suspension-based paradigm with a more positive effective school atmosphere that keeps kids in school. But the problem is that some school districts are executing these policies in ways that seem to send the message that the rights of obedient students are inferior to the disobedient.  When that happens, chaos ensues, teachers begin to look for other employment, and many families migrate elsewhere.

Out of school suspensions represent the school's failure to reach a particular student, and they perpetuate that student’s failure. They interrupt the student’s education, and the suspended  student typically needs more time in school, not less.  Out of school suspensions reinforce the student’s cycle of failure; they evidence the inability of the school’s efforts to convince the student to behave; they send the student to environments that reinforce bad behavior; they sometimes represent the first step into the juvenile justice system; and they impact a disproportionate number of students who have educational disadvantages.    So let’s start by agreeing that keeping students in school is an important objective:  the issue is whether strategies to keep kids in school destroy the safe, supportive, learning focused environment that teachers and other students deserve and in fact, the school environment which is their constitutional and statutory right. 

If out of school suspensions are damaging to the student, why then do schools ever suspend or expel students?  Of course, the straightforward answer is to protect the in-school environment, to show other students that high disciplinary expectations are in-force and that the rights of students who play by the rules come first.   Suspensions support teachers’ ability to set high disciplinary standards and spend valuable classroom time bearing down on learning activities.   

My own school district’s disciplinary policy (Administrative Procedure 506A) emphasizes this point by granting the classroom teacher the authority to remove a student from class:
Teachers have the responsibility of managing disruptive student behavior by explicitly teaching behavioral expectations; maximizing academic engagement and success; and by responding to disruptive behavior through means such as conferring with the student, implementing proactive behavioral supports, or contacting the student’s parents. When such measures fail, or when the teacher determines it is otherwise appropriate based upon the student’s conduct, the teacher shall have the authority to remove the student from class…… St. Cloud Administrative Procedure 506A 
Most school districts honor the right of the classroom teacher to remove a student from classroom.  The battle in St. Paul and other large-city districts centers on whether a student removed from class for disruptive behavior is allowed to return without consequence, or without convincing the principal that the disruptive behavior will not re-occur.  Teachers in St. Paul, and many parents and students, were complaining that the district was undermining high behavioral standards by placing the right of the mis-behaving student to stay in school above the rights of other students to have a disruption free school environment.   Once parents and students begin to believe that disruptive students’ rights are superior to other students, chaos ensues. 

I focused my last post on St. Paul, because it has been in the news, and recent events demonstrate the potential for push-back when a poorly considered paradigm is installed that fails to protect the classroom and hallways from disruptions.  But I might have selected other school districts as well, because this this issue has created concern in Districts across the country.
Here are some snippets taken from articles about challenges in the Denver public school system:
With a rising din of complaints from teachers about increasing discipline problems in Denver classrooms, district officials Monday updated the school board on plans to pump $1.5 million into mental health services for students next year, create a new out-of-school suspension option and add additional programming for troubled students.   Discipline concerns flare in Denver schools (Chalkbeat, May 14, 2013)  The aim of the discipline policy, revised in recent years, is to reduce in-school or out-of-school suspensions and expulsions so that students can continue to be in a learning environment. It also aims to erase the longstanding disparity between white students and students of color in terms of consequences for student misbehavior.
Following changes in disciplinary approaches, many Denver teachers complained that classroom control in some schools was getting out of hand:
On March 20, 60 Bruce Randolph Middle School teachers, office staff and custodians sent a letter to Superintendent Tom Boasberg complaining about the policy. And 44 staff and teachers at Morey Middle School sent a letter the following day expressing similar concerns.  “The disproportionate amount of time and resources that in the past would have been spent on improving instruction is instead spent by our entire staff, including administrators, instructional team, support staff, and teachers on habitually disruptive students that continually return to our classrooms,” the letter from the teachers at Bruce Randolph states. “This has now reached a critical point.”
As of 2015, in Denver, these concerns still persist.  See Denver teachers union survey puts spotlight on student discipline issues – (Colorado Public Radio, March 2015)
A third of Denver teachers surveyed about behavior issues in class say they don’t feel safe in their own schools.  That’s according to a new survey on discipline (full survey) by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, the union representing Denver teachers.   Sixty percent of the teachers said behavior and discipline problems have had a negative impact on the teacher's mental health. "The mental health piece, I think, is huge," McRoberts said.  Almost 60 percent of those surveyed would hesitate to send their own child to their school because of discipline issues.  A third reported being instructed to follow questionable discipline reporting practices. And almost 80 percent said they are losing planning time because of discipline problems in the classroom. ….The union says it decided ask the questions about discipline after hearing from teachers that there are problems. But the district’s superintendent questions the reliability of the survey and says school safety is the top priority in the district…
 I don’t pretend to be an expert on St. Paul, or Denver,  but it seems to me that there are lessons to be learned from the chaos that ensued in St. Paul.  St. Paul leadership, I think, failed to recognize that an important pillar of any school, is that students and teachers must have faith that the school will provide them with a safe, largely disruption-free classroom and school atmosphere.   As discussed in Part I, there is overwhelming evidence that students benefit when this atmosphere is maintained through a positive, supportive, process which keeps all students in school, save in rare exceptions, and when discipline is achieved not through punishment but through a culture of positive behavior. 

            What is bringing this issue to the forefront in so many districts?  Here are some of the factors. Each of them is a complex issue in its own right, but often well-meaning school administrators attempt to sweep these problems away with simplistic solutions based upon theoretical ideas and slogans that appeal to advocacy groups, editorial boards, and sometimes school boards, who lack an appreciation of how difficult it is to manage a classroom when confronted by one or more of the few students who persist, despite all efforts, in disrupting the learning environment.
  • There is increasing pressure from State and Federal Government, from advocacy groups, and the media to close the achievement gap, and increasing attacks on the schools, districts and superintendents for not making adequate progress.  Often the leadership becomes convinced that keeping more students in school all the time is essential to meet state and national goals, but they aren't willing to (or lack) the resources necessary to keep students in school while protecting teachers and students from disruption. 
  • More students are coming to school without the skills and attitudes that we traditionally expect as essential for success in school.    The higher expectations, and the perception that schools and teachers are failing them can make it difficult to motivate, can cause some students to drop-out emotionally and intellectually
  • Consulting groups often sell school administrators silver bullet solutions, such as PBIS, restorative justice, culturally responsive teaching, white privilege and anti-racism training, parent involvement, without pairing these programs with a plan to deal with students who fail to respond appropriately.  Some of these programs are predicated on the theory that if teachers do a better job teaching, and if schools do a better job of responding to students’ needs, the issue of discipline will be resolved, but no program, no matter how fantastic, will eliminate the need for dealing with unruly students.  
  • There is pressure by some advocates for students with behavioral disabilities to keep them in the classroom, even when their behavior is disruptive. Disability law does not exempt students with disabilities from behavioral standards, but unfortunately, some advocates treat them as if they are.
  • A small group of students do not readily respond to the strategies designed to keep all students in the classroom.  Some students come homes where punitive discipline is the norm, or no discipline is the norm, and positive persuasive discipline may be perceived as weak and ineffectual.  Some students have disabilities or psychiatric problems that actually exacerbate poor behavior when they are exposed to the stimulus of 25 active kids in a classroom.  Some students are just flat out angry at the world, some for very good reason.  If  a few students get away with disrupting the class, less aggressive students live in fear that they will be themselves the victims of these aggressive students.  Or, they may conclude that they need to act disruptive to remain in favor with these powerful students. Or, they may conclude that there is no reason to obey, because obedience is not rewarded and disobedience has no consequence.  

  • There is a shortage of teachers who come from the same ethnic, racial, or cultural background of a growing number of students.   This exacerbates a perception that possibly certain students are dealt with more harshly based on race, ethnicity or class, and it leaves some students without an adult role model with whom they identify and who can encourage proper behavior. 
  • Some superintendents and front office administrators charged with disciplinary implementation are emotionally and intellectually disconnected from the classroom.   When this happens, they may buy into flashy new programs that actually create chaos in the classroom, and when reports work their way up through the union or courageous principals, that the new program is not working, they may refuse to listen or hear.  They may say: Teachers are lazy and don’t want to take on the difficult students; they aren’t implementing my program with fidelity; they need more training; they are reflecting their white privileged status, and so on.
  • Some of well-meaning programs fail to provide adequate staffing to provide in-school alternatives.  More staffing may be perceived as diverting scarce revenues from teachers salaries.  While all unions say that they want more discipline, in some districts they make wage demands that drive out budgeting for needed staff support.   At bargaining time, it is not unusual to hear teacher representatives tell the public that the District should stop spending money on people who aren’t classroom teachers. 
  • Educators and advocates are concerned with what they describe as “disproportionate” suspensions impacting students of color more severely.   For example, after a review of suspension statistics, then Minneapolis Superintendent Johnson implemented a no-suspension policy for students in the first grade or younger, announced a front office of review of suspensions which (in her view) were impacting higher grade students disproportionately, and promised to close the racial suspension gap by 2018.  See  Washington Post November 26, 2014.
As stated above, it cannot possibly argued that kicking students out of school, even for a few days, is better for the student who has been disruptive or violent.  Ideally, students should stay in school:  the issue is whether it is possible to control school grounds, hallways, and classrooms when out of school suspension is ruled out in every case.  

The issue is what do we do when students fail to meet those expectations, and despite a teacher’s best efforts to use positive supportive techniques, a student disobeys and disrupts in ways that undermines the teacher’s classroom control. 

There are some folks who argue that disruptive behavior is a symptom of conditions and life experience inflicted unfairly on children, such as racism, abuse, disability, dysfunctional home environments, dysfunctional neighborhoods, poverty, or cultural differences not appreciated by a white privileged system.   Therefore, they argue, teachers should be forced to accommodate disruptive students in their classrooms and make adjustments in their teaching approach.   Many of these folks, I would argue, have never been responsible for teaching a classroom with disruptive students, and some of them frankly send their own students to schools that refuse to admit disruptive students.   Sometimes disciplinary dialogues view this issue as if the only person impacted by disciplinary policies is the student who breaks the rules.

In many major urban schools, the students most negatively impacted by relaxed disciplinary policies are themselves students trying to overcome the achievement gap.   The other students, the ones playing by the rules, bearing down, and seeking to navigate the road to college and career, are students who need more instructional time, who more than others, need a learning environment free of fear and disruption.   When we allow urban school discipline to deteriorate, we are denying these students their constitutional and statutory right to a quality education.    These students, above all, need a classroom environment where the teacher doesn’t have to spend the first ten minutes of class dealing with the few obstructionist students who are engaged in a daily power contest with the teacher.  

So how can we markedly reduce out-of-school-suspensions while protecting the rights of students to a disruption free learning-focused environment.    That’s a topic for future posts.

See: St. Paul Supt. Silva sends more staff into schools to address misbehavior 
See: More on Minneapolis incident

Jerry Von Korff is an attorney at the Rinke-Noonan Law firm.  He's  been a member of the St. Cloud School Board since 2004, where he has served as chair, vice chair, finance chair and in an number of other capacities.   This post represents Jerry's own views.  Before practicing law, Jerry got his Masters in Teaching, helped start an upward bound program, and taught social studies and math in Washington, DC and New York.   

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Tension over School Discipline Part I: Turmoil in St. Paul

This November, St. Paul voters elected a new slate of school board candidates who “easily won seats on the board in November with endorsements from the St. Paul DFL Party and a teachers union that's increasingly been unhappy with Silva's performance as superintendent.”  .  MinnPost January 6, 2016   One of the driving concerns of many citizens, teachers, and their union, has been the rising concern over discipline.    See City Pages, "Distrust and Disorder", May 2015A MinnPost Article explained: 
Many argue that city schools have become increasingly chaotic and dangerous in the past several years as the district strives to reduce racial disparities in student discipline. Minnesota Department of Education records support the contention that violence in district schools is on the rise, but the link to policy changes is a matter of dispute.  MinnPost January 4, 2016.
MinnPost continues: "Concerns over school safety have only heightened since the election with a spike in student discipline problems and a series of high-profile incidents of student violence." See also KARE Report (St. Paul Teachers Unions convey demands to Superintendent)   See also Strib Article:  Fourth Assault Surfaces (1-8-16) Strib Article:  Third Assault

This is the first in a series of posts that explore rising concerns about school discipline, the emerging controversy over whether schools need to tighten up discipline to provide a more disciplined teacher-supportive environment, or whether tight disciplinary standards should be relaxed in order to keep more kids in school.    Let’s begin with some background: 

For the past decade, teachers across the country have complained of what they perceive as a rising challenge in the area of classroom control.   See for example, the Gates Foundation survey of teachers, Primary Sources:  America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession, 2012  The report says:
Behavior issues that interfere with teaching and learning have notably worsened, according to an astonishing 62 percent of teachers who have been teaching in the same school for five or more years. The results were reported in Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession. The report, recently released by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, shows that the increased level of behavior problems has been seen across grade levels: 68 percent of elementary teachers, 64 percent of middle school teachers, and 53 percent of high school teachers say the same.
"This problem affects the whole classroom. Behavior problems distract other students from learning and require teachers to spend precious instruction time on discipline and behavior management. Over half of teachers wish they could spend fewer school day minutes on discipline."

One elementary educator defined the problem this way: “The time it takes to referee fights and solve bullying issues takes away from academic instruction and keeps students from achieving as much as they could.”   Concern about behavior issues was not limited to any particular demographic group. While teachers who worked in schools in low-income areas reported concerns about behavioral issues at a higher rate (65%), teachers who worked in high-income areas were not far behind. In high-income areas, 56 percent of teachers reported more behavioral issues that interfere with teaching and learning.
An article written 20 years ago (1996) for ASCD  (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) states:
Classroom management poses bigger challenges today than in the past, most experts agree. "There's no question that it's tougher today for teachers," says Pete DeSisto, director of the Cooperative Discipline Foundation in Easley, S.C. In the past, most students "agreed to be controlled" by the teacher, he says. Today, students are more likely to challenge a teacher's authority. Students' role models from sports and movies promote confrontation, not obedience, he notes.
Concerns over Use of Out of School Suspensions
As public concerns about discipline, or perceived lack of discipline, increased, some districts implemented zero tolerance policies that often led to more out of school suspensions.  Out of school suspensions eliminated problem students from the school, sent them home, in theory, but often there was nobody at home, and the suspended student wound up wandering the community, unsupervised.    Out of school suspensions delayed the student’s academic progress, broke the school-to-student connection, and often placed the student, in an environment that reinforced future bad behavior.  

Many of these suspended students tended to be students with academic difficulties, who desperately needed more instructional time, not less.   And so, the suspension was self-defeating, causing a break in the learning cycle, and making the student feel that ultimate graduation and success was becoming less and less likely.

In a critique of out of school suspensions, the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership wrote:
Research shows that student suspension is a strong predictor of a student’s failure to graduate on time and likelihood of dropping out. Research mentioned in the report “Out of School and Off Track,” shows that students that are suspended just once in ninth grade increase their dropout risk from 16% to 32%. Moreover, a study by Balfanz and Boccanfuso found that students who had been suspended in middle school were half as likely to graduate on time as students who had not been suspended. Both of these outcomes can be tied to the fact that students sent out of school are missing valuable learning time and therefore, fall behind in their educational achievement.  Solutions not Suspensions Ending the Discipline Gap in Minnesota Public Schools; Minority Education Partnership | POLICY BRIEF
In a similar vein, the ASCD’s publication “Safety Without Suspensions”: argues
Clearly, schools have a right and responsibility to use all effective means to ensure that students can learn and teachers can teach. Yet school suspension and expulsion are something of a devil's bargain. lt 1s hard to Justify interventions that rely on excluding a student from school when we know that time spent in learning is the single best predictor of positive academic outcomes.
" For principals, the question becomes one of costs and benefits. Does the removal of troublesome students from school reduce disruption and improve school climate enough to offset the inherent risks to educational opportunity and school bonding? Research indicates that the answer is no."

In addition, more and more advocates began to complain that suspensions and expulsions were “disproportionately” impacting minority students and students impacted by poverty, and were thus exacerbating the achievement gap.  The challenge for education leaders was to figure out implement more effective, less exclusionary methods for maintaining safe, productive school climates.   At the same time, in Minnesota, the State began to reduce support for mental health programs for young people and effectively dump students with grave mental health challenges back into regular schools without adequate support.  Some of these students wound up in settings where teachers and staff were ill equipped to deal with them and the disciplinary framework simply was inadequate to the task. 

Across the country, in many districts, school districts sought to eliminate out of school suspensions and in some cases, boards and administrative leadership blinded themselves to the need to provide alternatives.   They began to look for quick cheap solutions.  If suspending students was a problem, if it impacted minorities, why not just stop suspensions, and force teachers to do a better job with students right there in the classroom?   The “no suspension” movement in major urban school districts has created frankly a mess in districts like St. Paul, because boards and administrators have failed to replace out of school suspensions with adequate programs to assure that classroom teachers can

In the next post, I’ll talk a bit about the some of the efforts that have fallen short, so-called culturally appropriate instruction, Positive Behavior Inteventions and Support (PBIS) and then in a following post, I’ll write about what I think must be done to restrike a balance assuring disciplined learning focused classrooms free of disruptions, while keeping kids in school.   

Jerry Von Korff is an attorney at the Rinke-Noonan Law firm.  He's  been a member of the St. Cloud School Board since 2004, where he has served as chair, vice chair, finance chair and in an number of other capacities.   Before practicing law, Jerry got his Masters in Teaching, helped start an upward bound program, and taught social studies and math in Washington, DC and New York.   

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Pressure Grows to deal with special education caseloads

Across the State of Minnesota, teachers and their representatives are asking school districts to address challenges in special education by making contractual concessions in how special education is managed --   by hiring more special education teachers to reduce caseloads,  or perhaps by providing extra compensation for additional administrative and paper work.   For Education Minnesota's take on this issue, see "Minnesota's New Special Education Caseload/Workload Rule." Several trends are contributing to these requests.   For over a decade, teachers and others have been complaining about the increasing administrative burdens which impose demands on their time beyond direct instruction.   Adding to this concern, in the last decade, there has been an increase in the number of special education students at the very time that school districts are struggling to find resources to meet the needs of of other students with educational challenges.  

The 2013 Legislative Auditor's Report on Special Education contained a call for major reforms, but the report was largely sidetracked.  The report warned:
Minnesota special education requirements mandate duties for teachers and school administrators that are not required by federal law.  Minnesota statutes and rules add several requirements to the federally mandated procedural safeguards..... [these] safeguards are intended to protect the rights of students with disabilities and their parents, and result in unspecified costs to LEAs in terms of staff time and effort to comply with requirements.Minnesota statutes require IEP teams to meet under more circumstances than federal law requires, which adds to special education teachers’ and administrators’ workloads.
As a recent report on caseload explained:
According to the 2013 Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) report, the number of students receiving special education has increased steadily since the 1999-2000 school year, while the number of K-12 public school students statewide has decreased. The proportion of all K–12 students receiving special education increased from 11.9 percent in the 1999-2000 school year to 13.6 percent in 2010-2011. The 13.6 percent has remained stable for three years.  As the demand for special education services continues to grow and the ability of schools to meet the resource needs becomes more difficult,  See RECOMMENDATIONS FOR SPECIAL EDUCATION CASE LOAD AND RULE ALIGNMENT Report of the Special Education Case Load Task Force Submitted to the Minnesota Legislature February 15, 2014, Page 5.

These concerns are not new.  In 2002, during special education law (IDEA) reauthorization,  the Congress asked the Congressional Legislative Reference Service to conduct a study on the magnitude of administrative and paperwork burdens.  The LRS reported a  federal survey to Congress that found that the median number of hours per week spent on special education paperwork is 4.7 hours. (That means that 50% of those responding said they spend more than 4.7 hours per week on paperwork; 50% said they spent less.)

 The median for general education teachers was only  1.6 hours per week.

The LRS study further told Congress that the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), reported that special education teachers surveyed reported that their concerns about paperwork ranked third, after their concerns about their caseload and about time required for planning. About one-third of special education  teachers who responded to the survey said they spent between 10% and 20% of their time on paperwork related to identifying students for special education and on IEPs.  Another 30% of special education teachers said they spent up to 30% of their time on such paperwork. In addition, teachers reported spending substantial additional time on meetings related to IEPs: nearly 60% said they spend 10% to 20% of their time on such meetings, and another 25% said they spend up to 30% of their time on these meetings.

There is a consensus in Minnesota that our administrative burdens here are worse than those experienced in many other states. As Minnesota complaints grew,  Governor Dayton appointed a task force to examine teacher special education caseloads. 

The Strib reported on the task force as follows:

A newly appointed state task force is tackling a problem that has plagued Minnesota's special education teachers for years - too many students, too much paperwork, and inconsistent state rules and laws. Paperwork is frequently cited by special education teachers who have left the profession. And that's a significant number of teachers.. More than 800 of the state's 8,900 licensed special education teachers quit during the most recent school year the state tracked. Meanwhile, it granted just 417 new licenses for special ed teachers, the fewest in at least five years. The Minnesota Department of Education has introduced several initiatives aimed at reducing special education paperwork. Officials admit, however, that most of those efforts haven't trickled down to the average classroom teacher. Some teachers say paperwork forces them to work 70-hour weeks.

As is typical with State task forces, the Governor did not grant the task force a charge that might result in courageous deep and abiding changes.   You can find a record of the Task Force Proceedings by clicking here, but one finds nothing to cheer about in the report.    Although the report (referred to later in this post) recognized the problem, its fair to say like most other task forces, it failed to propose courageous changes.  Special education funding remains inadequate to address the concerns raised by teachers.  It appears that no major courageous reforms in paperwork or administration of special education have been made.   Once again, a Minnesota Department of Education task force has chosen to evade the core problems and shifted the crisis back to public school districts.  The result is that teachers and their representatives are now knocking on the doors of school districts to shift more resources into special education to address this problem, without compensating revenues from the state.

How big is this problem, and what is its solution?

The 2013 Office of Legislative Auditor Report, contains an example:
“According to one teacher, IEPs were typically four pages long when she started teaching 22 years ago. Now, she said, they are four or five times that length and so cumbersome they can be difficult for parents to understand. A special education director said evaluations used to be 3 or 4 pages but now are 11. Several educators noted the evaluation reports are redundant, and information found in different parts of the report is duplicative. For instance, one teacher said the student’s performance information is repeated three times: after the description of specific tests, at the bottom of each page, and at the end of the report in a comprehensive summary.”
Special education teachers and school administrators are required to complete paperwork that is not required of general education teachers. Paperwork significantly adds to special education teachers’ and administrators’ workloads and can have cost implications when districts hire staff to assist with it. As described in Chapter 1, federal law requires a number of processes and services that must be documented for students receiving special education. In addition, we found: Minnesota requires additional information in federally mandated documents as well as reports not mandated at the federal law.  
A report on  National Public Radio Saturday morning described one teacher's view of the burden:  
"I don't know how to describe it," she says. "It's just so much work."  She's not talking about teaching or lesson planning or even working with disruptive students. She really likes those parts of the job. "It's all the other compliance and laws and paperwork."  All of that stuff can be summed up with three letters: IEP. That stands for Individualized Education Program. Each student in special education has one. It's required by law. And each IEP requires hours and hours of upkeep. Forms need to be updated, data has to be tracked and there are additional meetings with parents and other staff. Multiply that by the 43 students Stephanie has, and there goes all of her free time. "I stay at work hours typically every day," Stephanie said. What she doesn't finish, she takes home.
In 2008, a pro-labor organization, Minnesota 2020 posted an article :  Leave a Light On For Special Ed Teachers  giving voice to the continuing problem:
Before a student is approved for special education services, a teacher conducts an assessment which is coordinated between the teacher, the student's other teachers and the parents (separate forms for each). If the assessment (many forms) leads to services, then the teacher compiles a comprehensive report which includes all teacher and school documentation (many forms). Then the teacher begins for Individual Education Program. This requires another meeting between parents and teachers (separate forms for each) in which the group decides on goals and objectives (many forms). If the student has multiple diagnoses, each needs to be addressed in the IEP (many more forms). [One teacher] said the IEP can be as long as 30 pages. She said another Rochester teacher has one student with 128 goals, each with several objectives. …. [The teacher] said she is currently working on six IEPs, three reevaluations and beginning to plan for another reevaluation. "It's terrible," she said,."
The 2020 article continued:  "Mary Ruprecht, Director of Special Education for the Rum River Special Education Cooperative, said the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) has increased the already large number of forms. Although the forms aren't required, teachers must use them to document their actions. This makes them essentially required, she said. Verna said the paperwork blizzard comes from being in a litigious society.  There's not much that can be done," she said. "District officials want to cover themselves if they are sued by parents. That means having a paper trail. ...It's sad. The focus has gotten away from the needs of the child."

In an October 2004 Special education teachers are drowning in paper.  Here’s how you can help them, the National Association of Princpals' journal  wrote:
The burden of required paperwork is one of the main causes for dissatisfaction of special education teachers, according to a recent study. [There are]  four ways principals can help reduce that burden: 
  • provide special education teachers more time for paperwork; 
  • limit their caseloads; 
  • provide more support and resources for the IEP process; 
  • and require only essential paperwork.
Unlike other professions, education fails to provide appropriate lower-cost administrative and clerical support for teachers.  The article continues:
Principals should do all they can to eliminate non-essential paperwork One way to do this would be to shift some of the paperwork responsibility to others. At present, only 50 percent of special education teachers receive any assistance on paperwork from a paraprofessional, instructional assistant, parent, volunteer, or secretary.
In the face of increasing special education caseloads, Minnesota's education establishment could  respond in several ways.
  •  Provide increased special education funding so that districts can hire More Special Education Teachers to Reduce Caseloads and to Attack Paperwork.    There is currently a significant teacher shortage in special education, caused by reasons that are partly outside the scope of this post.   Reducing teacher caseload has a significant cost attached to it, because it means hiring significantly more teachers and frankly, the State has shown very little interest in increasing revenues for special education to the level that would support these caseload reductions.  Minnesota's has failed persistently to pay the cost of state mandates in special education and has instead pursued the strategy of forcing local school districts to cover their special education deficits either by transferring funds from regulat education, or by hoping that local school disstricts will make up the difference in cost with  operating referendum revenue.   
  • Provide Clerical Support for Teachers to Reduce their Paperwork Load The state could create incentives for school districts to utilize clerical and paraprofessional trained help, hiring and training persons without teachers' licenses to perform the paperwork.  Every other profession, besides teaching, recognizes that efficiency requires that work that can be delegated to support personnel should be delegated.  A completely new and more efficient paradigm should be implemented that uses technology, templates, automated forms, transcription, secretarial support, and other devices utilized by any modern organization that engages in repetitive document production.   
  •  Reduce the Number of IEP meetings and the number of Required Attendees 
  •  Make Transformative Changes in Bureacratic Requirements.   It could implement transformative changes in the adminstrative requirements for special education.    But Minnesota's education bureaucracy seems to lack the will and imagination to make transformative change.