Study: CPS reform program fails disabled kids

The Chicago Public Schools Renaissance 2010 initiative began in 2004 as a way to create new, high-quality schools in Chicago, and some research suggests the program is working.

But it hasn't done much for children with disabilities, according to a newly released report by the Chicago nonprofit Access Living.

The study compares the performance of students with disabilities at traditional public schools versus that of their counterparts at new schools created through Renaissance 2010.

So far, 73 schools have opened under the program, and the district plans to open 20 more this fall.

Each year, the district seeks proposals for new Renaissance 2010 schools, from local educators, parents, community organizations, universities and other groups. The district green-lights the top-ranked projects.

The schools have helped elementary school students in some of Chicago's neediest neighborhoods, according to another study released earlier this month.

However, Access Living found less positive results for children with disabilities. According to the report, officials at Chicago Public Schools often failed to include those children in its plans for Renaissance 2010.

"Their results are really, on average, no better than CPS on aggregate test scores," says author Rod Estvan, Access Living’s education outreach coordinator. "I don't see any revolution here.”

CPS officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Estvan says Access Living sent the report to district and city officials before releasing it to the public.

The report tracked data from the 37 Renaissance 2010 schools active in March 2007 and all other CPS schools. It also reviewed 20 proposals for schools set to open in 2007 and 2008.

The report found that from 2006 to 2007, none of the CPS-approved proposals included reading programs specifically for students with disabilities.

"As a group these schools are no more effective in teaching students with disabilities to read than the average CPS school," Estvan wrote.

The study also found that Renaissance 2010 schools do not prepare students with disabilities for work or higher education. Of the high-school proposals, only one discussed support for their transition out of secondary school.

"There is absolute consensus in the field of special education that the transition process is fundamental to improving life outcomes for students with disabilities," Estvan wrote.

Based on the findings, Estvan recommended that CPS officials reject all proposals that fail to include students with disabilities. Further, officials should look for budget allocations for programs that serve those students.

Estvan acknowledges that programs may not necessarily address specific types of disabilities, "but they must provide both the appropriate types and levels of special education services required for students who participate in them to succeed."

"Special-needs kids and a failure to educate them are indicative of a larger problem," Estvan says. "If this program's is going to mean anything, it has to mean something for these kids."

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VITTORIO JACKSON, 05-30-2009

Kudos and a big thanks to the Access Living group for looking out for the most vulnerable students in our public school system. Their formation is important as they grow older into adults. I have heard horror stories of students not even admitted to these REN schools or specialists from Office of Special Services in CPS being treated with no respect when they address concerns of the special education students with the some of these REN School administrators.

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The other study mentioned in this article is made by unknown astroturf group that is looking for $$$ for Ren 2010 schools. These organizations like UNO want the money but don't want the challenge of helping the MOST vulnerable students in Chicago, those with special needs.