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Chicago Schools Come Under Fire for Special Education Progams

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Because U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was the superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, I keep an eye out for special education news originating from the city. This article, in the Chi-Town Daily News, is about an accusation from a principal that students with special learning needs are barred from evaluations because it's too expensive to educate them.

A Chicago Public Schools principal yesterday accused district officials of routinely denying disabled students access to specialized help, and at times even barring them from evaluation for learning disabilities.

Mary Ann Pollett, principal of Moses Montefiore Special Elementary School, testified before the City Council's Committee on Education and Child Development that officials have discouraged teachers at her school from reporting students' disabilities because it is too expensive to deal with them.

"They deny that that goes on, but it does," Pollett said, with her superiors only a few yards away. "Montefiore is only the tip of the iceberg. This goes deep into a systemic issue that needs to be addressed within the Chicago Public Schools."

The issue arose because Montefiore offers a special program for boys with emotional and behavioral disorders. The school was facing the prospect of closing because of dwindling enrollments. Supporters of the school have said that the district was choosing not to evaluate students who might then enroll in Montefiore, because of the high cost of educating them.

The district, responding to the accusation, denies that it engages in such practices, though it is working on better ways to identify students with disabilities. And, it said that in the past it has been accused of overidentificiation, which is a real problem that does face many districts.

Certain subgroups of students, particularly boys and minorities, are
identified as having special education needs at a rate higher than other students. The difference in rates of identification is referred to with the special education field as disproportionality.

Access Living, an advocacy group for people with disabilities, has also recently taken aim at the district's Renaissance 2010 schools, which are new, smaller schools with innovative teaching programs.

Access Living claims that students with disabilities within those schools do no better than at a traditional public schools. The organization said that the creators of the small schools have to make plans for how to educate students with disabilities in the earliest stages of program development:

“Whether it be reading intervention or transition services, if students with disabilities are not integrated into the original plan of the program, then students with disabilities will fall behind,” said Rodney Estvan, Access Living’s Education Policy Coordinator, who is the lead author of the report.

“In order for CPS to realize the original intent of the Renaissance 2010, they have to start including students with disabilities in all new proposals and program development plans.”

1 Comment

It's a really tough balance to find, and I don't know if it is well served through "identification." One of the dirty little secrets revealed in my district when testing became a universal requirement and scores reported by building (initially the "special schools'" scores were hidden within the scores of the referring buildings) was how poorly the "special schools" were doing. I recall one teacher who had to write a grant for basic texts to match the reading level of her students. They have, in fact, gotten better. But they are still overwhelmingly minority and male--and suffer from the stigma of being regarded as the "bad kids" schools. They are mostly staffed by good and caring people who are far less likely to be appropriately credentialled than staff in any other schools in the district. The motivation for identifying kids for their services has always seemed to be the desire to get kids out of the other schools and classrooms.

No answers, just the observation that over and under identification are problems. And identification does not guarantee any particular quality of services.

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