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SPEDx: State SPED Data in the Hands of a Former TFAer?

March 4, 2018

If it touches the K12 classroom, ed reform can turn it into a business opportunity.

Consider SPEDx, a Georgia for-profit that describes itself as follows on its website:

SPEDx was founded by Dr. Richard Nyankori with the aim to help educators and others accelerate the progress of students receiving special education in our nation’s schools.

SPEDx was inspired by Richard’s brother Matthew and the many other students and adults with disabilities who enrich the lives of others with their own unique talents and abilities that contribute to vibrant families and communities across the nation.

Fueled by advances in data science, increased attention to improving outcomes for students with disabilities, and a unanimous US Supreme Court ruling in the Endrew F. case that would elevate achieving ‘appropriately ambitious’ goals as the new standard, SPEDx works with educators and others to realize a vastly improved success for students in special education.

Also according to its website, SPEDx offers two services (eyebrows up already): consultation to “move special education priorities forward” and IEP analysis– where it seems that SPEDx becomes an additional presence in students’ individualized education plans– which means that SPEDx would have access to those IEPs– access that a state or district could grant to SPEDx without parental knowledge. Below is SPEDx’s detailing of the consulting and IEP analysis services:

Consulting

Our consulting services focus on helping our partners figure what could work best to move their special education priorities forward. Our approach is steeped in design thinking and understanding problems from the ground up, with empathy, and then quickly iterating potential solutions that can scale widely.

IEP Analysis

SPEDx offers IEP analysis to help educators identify individualized patterns for increasing progress towards a student’s intellectual and behavioral goals. We then use these patterns to understand what specific interventions accelerate progress. Through this analysis, educators ensure that each student can make ambitious progress inside and outside of the classroom.

But who is SPEDx founder, Richard Nyankori, and what is his experience with special education populations? To ascertain Nyankori’s professional background, I consulted his Linkedin bio.

photo (27)  Richard Nyankori

In 1992, Nyankori graduated from Emory University (Georgia) with a degree in sociology. For the next four years (1993 – 1997), Nyankori taught with the Baltimore City Public School system (which, incidentally, overlaps with two of the three years that TFAer-gone-DC-chancellor, Michelle Rhee taught in the same school system). Nyankori notes that he taught special education, math, science, and reading; however, he does not indicate if he taught some of each of these for all four years, or if he taught one for each of four years. He also does not include information about any special education training. And though his Linkedin bio does not mention Teach for America (TFA), this ProCon.org bio indicates that Nyankori is a former TFAer (1993); thus, one can conclude that his time in Baltimore City Schools was as a TFAer with the associated, limited, TFA training, with teacher licensure granted after two years spent in the classroom. As it stands, TFA began its Baltimore presence in 1992— the year Rhee arrived, only a year before Nyankori arrived, so any substantial, prior training in special education on Nyankori’s part is looking pretty sketchy.

His third year in Baltimore, Nyankori received a M.S. in curriculum and instruction/administrator certification from McDaniel College (1993 – 1996). According to the degree description, one need not have a bachelors degree in education first. The degree as currently listed is 34.5 credit hours, and one can choose from two specializations: generalist or administrator. There is no special education specialization associated with this degree as it is listed.

After Nyankori’s four years in a Baltimore classroom, he began working on a Ph.D. in education policy, planning, and administration through the University of Maryland, which he took eight years to complete (1997 – 2005). During those eight years, Nyankori held a total of four jobs, the last one reconnecting him to Rhee via her TFA-like spinoff, The New Teacher Project (TNTP):

  • Coordinator of Special Projects, Course Developer, PLS 3rd Learning (online education), 1997 -1999
  • Interim Principal, Baltimore City Public Schools, 1999 – 2000
  • Assistant Principal, Hartford County (Maryland) Public Schools, 2000 – 2001
  • Director of Training and Certification, The New Teacher Project, 2001 – 2007

Note that none of the above positions have special education as an emphasis.

In 2007, when Rhee was appointed DC Schools chancellor, Nyankori followed her there as her “special assistant” for one year, and it seems that for that one year (2007 – 2008), he also held another position simultaneously: Nyankori was put in charge of special education in DC for four years (2007 – 2011), including one year beyond Rhee’s remaining time as DC chancellor (she resigned in 2010):

  • Special Assistant to the Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), 2007 – 2008
  • Deputy Chancellor, Special Education, DCPS, 2008 – 2011

As is so often true with ed reformers, Nyakori’s bio has him on the fast track to administration with little certified, hands-on experience in that which he is supposed to oversee. In his case, this is true in his limited classroom experience (four years– which by TFA standards is extensive) and certainly more pronounced with his being appointed to oversee special education for all of DC when one cannot be certain from his bio that he even has a solid year of classroom experience in special education, much less a single year of certified, special education experience.

Following his time in DC, Nyankori once again bounced around professionally in the way that career ed reformers do: He spent five years in two different roles with Insight Education Group, an education consulting company; much of this time overlapped with his role as “advisor” to Goalbook (another education company), and, finally, in 2016, Nyankori founded SPEDEx, a company that offers no details on why anyone should trust Nyankori to advise on special education issues:

  • Vice President of Product Development, Insight Education Group, Inc., 2011 – 2013
  • Executive Vice President, Insight Education Group, Inc., 2013 – 2016
  • Advisor, Goalbook, 2012 – present
  • Founder and CEO, SPEDx, 2016 – present

What, exactly, would SPEDx feature regarding Nyankori’s credentials and hands-on experience in the special education classroom?

As it is, the SPEDx website misleads readers by identifying Nyankori as “Dr.” without also indicating that his Ph.D. is not in special education. As already noted, from the SPEDx website:

SPEDx was founded by Dr. Richard Nyankori with the aim to help educators and others accelerate the progress of students receiving special education in our nation’s schools.

Now, to the greater point in my writing this post: Texas Education commissioner Mike Morath entered into a $4M, no-bid contract with SPEDx, and I plan to examine this situation more closely in future posts. For now, here is an excerpt from the January 17, 2018, Dallas Observer:

[Former Texas special education director Laurie Kash] reported that the TEA illegally awarded a $4.4 million no-bid contract in May to the recently created, for-profit, Georgia-based company SPEDx to analyze private data about how students received special education services, the Austin American-Statesman first reported.

In her complaint, Kash claimed the TEA didn’t follow state law to publicize its justification for awarding a no-bid contract to SPEDx. …

 

Morath eventually shut down the $4 million data-collection program although the TEA had already paid Nyankori’s company $2.2 million in federal funds for students with disabilities.

More to come. Stay tuned.

money apple

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

11 Comments
  1. speduktr permalink

    We certainly need someone to show us how to standardize/streamline special education services and the IEP process, then we can meet the needs of these students with the standardized/individualized instruction they need (snark alert). It would be hard enough to swallow if he had a claim to any expertise in special education.

  2. Thanks, Mercedes,
    I looked up the SpedX website and found a logo at the bottom that looks something like a hybrid of Amazon’s arrow but with an “AWS” acronym that appears to represent “Amazon Web Services”
    https://aws.amazon.com/education/ed-tech/credit-program/

    How convenient for Amazon that SPEDx’s Privacy Policy indicates that information from SPEDx could be shared with its affiliate companies: https://www.spedx.com/privacy.html

    Here’s more on Amazon Web Services “EdStart” program:

    “AWS EDStart: Giving EdTech Startups a Head Start

    AWS EdStart, the AWS EdTech startup accelerator, helps entrepreneurs build the next generation of online learning, analytics, and campus management solutions on the AWS Cloud. The program enables startup educational technology (EdTech) companies to move faster by providing AWS Promotional Credits, community engagement, office hours, customized trainings, and specialized support. Technology plays a key role in many classrooms, institutions, and learning environments, and AWS EdStart lets EdTech entrepreneurs build solutions that are secure, smart, scalable, and cost effective”… https://aws.amazon.com/education/ed-tech/credit-program/
    ________________________

    According to a colleague from a privacy group listserve, AWS is the “leading cloud-computing company by market share. If you’re an Amazon shareholder, this is the division that is currently generating Amazon’s profits (e-commerce took global losses). It is also what makes NetFlix work.”

    If you’re wondering about data security (or lack thereof) on AWS, here are some recent/related articles:

    “Error Exposes 1.5 Million People’s Private Medical Records on Amazon Web Services”
    https://gizmodo.com/security-hell-private-medical-data-of-over-1-5-million-1731548110

    “Configuration Error Leads to Another Amazon Web Services Data Breach”
    https://virtualizationreview.com/articles/2017/06/21/configuration-error-leads-to-another-aws-data-breach.aspx

    “Amazon Web Services Users Are Carelessly Leaking Tons of Sensitive Data”
    https://thenextweb.com/security/2017/06/02/amazon-web-services-leak-data-aws/

    • Zorba permalink

      I wonder if the parents even know that their kids’ data and IEP’s are being shared with, not just SPEDx, but Amazon? And who knows who else?
      I bet not.
      Just because a child is a special needs child does not mean that their privacy is non-existent.
      But then, all kids’ data seems to be widely shared. Without the parents’ consent, or even knowledge.
      This is totally unacceptable.

    • Julie Comeaux permalink

      Pretty scarey stuff. I refused many times to sign voluntary consent to my child’s medical records in IEP re-evaluations. It did not stop the district from submitting expired or revoked consent forms to our physicians. Thankfully, I provided copies of revoked consent to them as well. Ultimately, my district filed due process against me in effort to obtain the records. Thankful now, more than ever that I never consented to that release. Who knows where that information would end up at this point. I don’t think parents realize their children are pawns in an ugly business of data mining.

  3. Lisa M permalink

    an FYI….should be Harford Co Public Schools (we have no Hartland Co in MD).

  4. Corrected. Thank you.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Louisiana’s “Confidential” SPEDx Report: Available as a Texas Public Records Request(!?) | deutsch29
  2. Texas’ Sham-Firing of SPED Director Laurie Kash Over SPEDx: More Details. | deutsch29
  3. LA Dept of Ed Officials React to SPEDx’s Bad Publicity in Texas: An Email Exchange | deutsch29
  4. For-Profit SPEDx’s End Game: Cut SPED Services for a Lower Bottom Line | deutsch29

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