Inclusion monitors fanning out

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CPS approaching inclusion targets

CPS approaching inclusion targets

State monitors recently wrapped up the first phase of a new initiative that eventually will reach half of the city’s schools, with the goal of determining how well those schools are educating children with disabilities.

On May 12, monitors finished site visits to the first 25 schools selected for the program, crafted as part of the Illinois State Board of Education’s settlement of the Corey H. special education lawsuit. That suit accused the Chicago schools of violating federal law by illegally segregating disabled children into restrictive, self-contained classrooms and programs; the state was accused of failing to use its oversight authority to force Chicago to fix the problem.

After U.S. District Court Judge Robert Gettleman approved the state’s settlement agreement last year, he ordered the state to set up a monitoring program and begin evaluating schools as soon as possible.

“The decision against the state had to do with their inability to monitor problems in Chicago,” explains Sharon Weitzman Soltman, an attorney for the research and advocacy group Designs for Change, which filed the Corey H. suit in 1992 with the Northwestern University Legal Clinic. “We had, and still have a [school] system that does not implement the law and [properly] educate children with disabilities. Real change has to be school by school, and some appear to be doing a good job, some not so good. … We’ll be looking very closely at what the state does and how they do it.”

To carry out the effort, the state tapped an administrator with teaching experience in both regular and special education, Jimmy Gunnell. Gunnell, who has led other monitoring initiatives, visited five of the first 25 schools he says he believes most schools are taking steps to improve.

“I think schools understand what’s before them and what they have to do,” says Gunnell. “I believe we’re moving in the right direction.”

Beginning next year, 50 schools will be selected to undergo monitoring each year through 2005-06, for a total of 325. The state is using a variety of selection criteria, targeting schools that have a disproportionate number of special education students or a disproportionately high number of their disabled children in restrictive placements. The state also may choose schools if they have been the subject of formal complaints—for instance, by a parent regarding her child’s placement—or referred by the central Chicago Public Schools administration.

High schools as well as schools from each of CPS’s six regions will be included, Gunnell says.

Since the details of the program are still being refined, the state chose a mix of schools for this year’s “pilot” effort, Gunnell says. For example, the 25 include two charter schools, Chicago International Prairie and Chicago International Bucktown. (At Catalyst press time, the state was still selecting next year’s group.)

Prior to the state’s three- to five-day visits, schools will be asked to complete self-assessments describing their efforts to educate children in the “least restrictive environment” possible. Within 45 days after the visits, monitors will complete reports outlining problems and what schools need to do to improve. Final reports for the first group of 25 are expected to be done over the summer.

Monitors are “looking not only at the quantitative, but also the qualitative,” Gunnell says. To that end, the state is examining school and student records, including IEPs (individual education plans) and class schedules for special education students; interviewing staff, parents and children; observing classrooms; and holding focus group discussions.

They will explore, among other things:

Dropout rates, truancy, discipline referrals, test scores and other achievement data for disabled students.

Whether special education students are in their home school or from outside the attendance area.

How often regular and special education teachers collaborate on planning and teaching.

Whether the school is using alternate assessments, such as oral exams, for disabled students who need them.

Whether disabled students have the opportunity to participate in supplemental programs, vocational education, science labs and other activities.

At Harper High School in Englewood, where state monitors spent a week recently, Principal Nathaniel Mason believes the inclusion process is going well. The school has moved as many disabled students as possible into regular classes and is trying to have special education and regular teachers do more collaborative planning and teaching, Mason says. Inclusion has become part of Harper’s regular school-improvement planning process, and Mason reports regularly on progress to his local school council.

Still, Mason says, “If there’s anything that the state says we need to address, we’ll use whatever funds we get to do that.”

The money

Funding has long been a bone of contention among the parties in the Corey H. suit. Chicago dealt with the matter by agreeing in its settlement of the suit in 1998 to provide every school in its Education Connections program with $110,000 over three years—$10,000 the first year for planning and $100,000 for two years of implementation. For each of seven school years, starting this year, the district is selecting some 30 schools for the program. (at Catalyst press time, CPS was still selecting next year’s group.)

However, the state board, which didn’t reach a settlement until last year, balked at providing money. Finally, Gettleman ordered it to spend $2.7 million a year through 2005-06, distributing each year’s installment among the schools brought into the monitoring program that year. Counting the money expected to be spent on this year’s 25 schools, the total comes to $17.5 million.

Gettleman’s decision was “very unusual. Usually when the state comes in, [schools] don’t get any money,” says Kathleen Gibbons, a CPS attorney who is handling the Corey H. suit. Because CPS is providing money through Education Connections, Gettleman “kept telling [the state] they had to fill the other side of the cup,” she adds.

It’s still unclear whether the state money will be divided equally—giving each school some $55,000—or on the basis of need, Gunnell says. However the funds are distributed, the money will be far less than what schools are given through Education Connections—schools can’t be in both programs.

Some schools already are troubled by that, says Gibbons. Several that applied to be in Education Connections were picked by the state instead and are “very upset” about it, she says.

Sue Gamm, director of specialized services for CPS, says her office will provide copies of Education Connections improvement plans to state-monitored schools “so they won’t be clueless.” And central and regional staff who already are working on inclusion can provide training to state-monitored schools if they request it, Gamm adds.

But Joy Rogers, a Loyola University professor and an activist on inclusion issues, says even the $110,000 provided through Education Connections isn’t enough. “I think the schools have worked in good faith, but you can’t change long-established culture with $110,000 over three years,” Rogers says. “What’s needed is something much more aggressive.”

Gibbons believes some schools are better off being part of the state’s program, even though they will get less money. “For some of the schools, they need the hammer the state comes in with,” she says. “Some principals have said, I think I need the help of the state.”

In rare instances, state monitors may go into Education Connections schools if they fail to improve after three years, Gunnell says. “We would have to have just cause, something flagrant or a big red-flag, such as [formal] complaints or skyrocketing [special education] enrollment,” he explains. “It would have to be something the court would approve.” (A federal monitor is overseeing both Education Connections and the state program; see story, “The court is watching”.)

Ultimately, says Gibbons, the goal of the Corey H. settlement is to have every Chicago public school get money and assistance by 2006, through either Education Connections or the state.

Numerical targets

Although CPS forged its own settlement with the federal court two years ago, the city now finds itself with a new set of enrollment targets aimed at schools that have too many or too few disabled students.

Under these targets, schools have until June 1, 2005, to bring their special education enrollments within 5 percentage points of the citywide average. Currently, disabled students account for 9 percent of the elementary population and 13 percent of the high school population, so elementary schools will have to have at least 4 percent disabled students and high schools, at least 8 percent.

No school—except those created to serve students with disabilities—can have a special education population of more than 20 percent; however, the cap can be waived if children are in their home school.

Schools also will be asked to reduce the time that children with disabilities spend outside the regular classroom and, on this score, to come closer to national averages reported each year by the U.S. Department of Education.

Gettleman imposed the targets at the recommendation of a former U.S. Department of Education official, called in by the judge as an expert witness when the state opted for a trial and balked at joining Chicago in the 1998 agreement. The expert, David Rostetter, told Gettleman that the court should impose benchmarks on the state and, thus, on Chicago as a way to help gauge how well schools are meeting the goal of placing children in the “least restrictive environment.”

“If the state had settled along with us, there would be no numbers,” says Gibbons. “There were no numbers in our agreement. Dictating that a certain number of kids should be in a certain environment is actually contrary to what’s in the law.” The 1975 law (called Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act) that sparked the Corey H. suit, “says that as long as you justify a placement, that child may still end up in a self-contained classroom, if that’s what’s appropriate for them.”

State monitors recently wrapped up the first phase of a new initiative that eventually will reach half of the city’s schools, with the goal of determining how well those schools are educating children with disabilities.

On May 12, monitors finished site visits to the first 25 schools selected for the program, crafted as part of the Illinois State Board of Education’s settlement of the Corey H. special education lawsuit. That suit accused the Chicago schools of violating federal law by illegally segregating disabled children into restrictive, self-contained classrooms and programs; the state was accused of failing to use its oversight authority to force Chicago to fix the problem.

After U.S. District Court Judge Robert Gettleman approved the state’s settlement agreement last year, he ordered the state to set up a monitoring program and begin evaluating schools as soon as possible.

“The decision against the state had to do with their inability to monitor problems in Chicago,” explains Sharon Weitzman Soltman, an attorney for the research and advocacy group Designs for Change, which filed the Corey H. suit in 1992 with the Northwestern University Legal Clinic. “We had, and still have a [school] system that does not implement the law and [properly] educate children with disabilities. Real change has to be school by school, and some appear to be doing a good job, some not so good. … We’ll be looking very closely at what the state does and how they do it.”

To carry out the effort, the state tapped an administrator with teaching experience in both regular and special education, Jimmy Gunnell. Gunnell, who has led other monitoring initiatives, visited five of the first 25 schools he says he believes most schools are taking steps to improve.

“I think schools understand what’s before them and what they have to do,” says Gunnell. “I believe we’re moving in the right direction.”

Beginning next year, 50 schools will be selected to undergo monitoring each year through 2005-06, for a total of 325. The state is using a variety of selection criteria, targeting schools that have a disproportionate number of special education students or a disproportionately high number of their disabled children in restrictive placements. The state also may choose schools if they have been the subject of formal complaints—for instance, by a parent regarding her child’s placement—or referred by the central Chicago Public Schools administration.

High schools as well as schools from each of CPS’s six regions will be included, Gunnell says.

Since the details of the program are still being refined, the state chose a mix of schools for this year’s “pilot” effort, Gunnell says. For example, the 25 include two charter schools, Chicago International Prairie and Chicago International Bucktown. (At Catalyst press time, the state was still selecting next year’s group.)

Prior to the state’s three- to five-day visits, schools will be asked to complete self-assessments describing their efforts to educate children in the “least restrictive environment” possible. Within 45 days after the visits, monitors will complete reports outlining problems and what schools need to do to improve. Final reports for the first group of 25 are expected to be done over the summer.

Monitors are “looking not only at the quantitative, but also the qualitative,” Gunnell says. To that end, the state is examining school and student records, including IEPs (individual education plans) and class schedules for special education students; interviewing staff, parents and children; observing classrooms; and holding focus group discussions.

They will explore, among other things:

Dropout rates, truancy, discipline referrals, test scores and other achievement data for disabled students.

Whether special education students are in their home school or from outside the attendance area.

How often regular and special education teachers collaborate on planning and teaching.

Whether the school is using alternate assessments, such as oral exams, for disabled students who need them.

Whether disabled students have the opportunity to participate in supplemental programs, vocational education, science labs and other activities.

At Harper High School in Englewood, where state monitors spent a week recently, Principal Nathaniel Mason believes the inclusion process is going well. The school has moved as many disabled students as possible into regular classes and is trying to have special education and regular teachers do more collaborative planning and teaching, Mason says. Inclusion has become part of Harper’s regular school-improvement planning process, and Mason reports regularly on progress to his local school council.

Still, Mason says, “If there’s anything that the state says we need to address, we’ll use whatever funds we get to do that.”

The money

Funding has long been a bone of contention among the parties in the Corey H. suit. Chicago dealt with the matter by agreeing in its settlement of the suit in 1998 to provide every school in its Education Connections program with $110,000 over three years—$10,000 the first year for planning and $100,000 for two years of implementation. For each of seven school years, starting this year, the district is selecting some 30 schools for the program. (At CATALYST press time, CPS was still selecting next year’s group.)

However, the state board, which didn’t reach a settlement until last year, balked at providing money. Finally, Gettleman ordered it to spend $2.7 million a year through 2005-06, distributing each year’s installment among the schools brought into the monitoring program that year. Counting the money expected to be spent on this year’s 25 schools, the total comes to $17.5 million.

Gettleman’s decision was “very unusual. Usually when the state comes in, [schools] don’t get any money,” says Kathleen Gibbons, a CPS attorney who is handling the Corey H. suit. Because CPS is providing money through Education Connections, Gettleman “kept telling [the state] they had to fill the other side of the cup,” she adds.

It’s still unclear whether the state money will be divided equally—giving each school some $55,000—or on the basis of need, Gunnell says. However the funds are distributed, the money will be far less than what schools are given through Education Connections—schools can’t be in both programs.

Some schools already are troubled by that, says Gibbons. Several that applied to be in Education Connections were picked by the state instead and are “very upset” about it, she says.

Sue Gamm, director of specialized services for CPS, says her office will provide copies of Education Connections improvement plans to state-monitored schools “so they won’t be clueless.” And central and regional staff who already are working on inclusion can provide training to state-monitored schools if they request it, Gamm adds.

But Joy Rogers, a Loyola University professor and an activist on inclusion issues, says even the $110,000 provided through Education Connections isn’t enough. “I think the schools have worked in good faith, but you can’t change long-established culture with $110,000 over three years,” Rogers says. “What’s needed is something much more aggressive.”

Gibbons believes some schools are better off being part of the state’s program, even though they will get less money. “For some of the schools, they need the hammer the state comes in with,” she says. “Some principals have said, I think I need the help of the state.”

In rare instances, state monitors may go into Education Connections schools if they fail to improve after three years, Gunnell says. “We would have to have just cause, something flagrant or a big red-flag, such as [formal] complaints or skyrocketing [special education] enrollment,” he explains. “It would have to be something the court would approve.” (A federal monitor is overseeing both Education Connections and the state program; see story, “The court is watching”.)

Ultimately, says Gibbons, the goal of the Corey H. settlement is to have every Chicago public school get money and assistance by 2006, through either Education Connections or the state.

Numerical targets

Although CPS forged its own settlement with the federal court two years ago, the city now finds itself with a new set of enrollment targets aimed at schools that have too many or too few disabled students.

Under these targets, schools have until June 1, 2005, to bring their special education enrollments within 5 percentage points of the citywide average. Currently, disabled students account for 9 percent of the elementary population and 13 percent of the high school population, so elementary schools will have to have at least 4 percent disabled students and high schools, at least 8 percent.

No school—except those created to serve students with disabilities—can have a special education population of more than 20 percent; however, the cap can be waived if children are in their home school.

Special education enrollment in high schools

Most of CPS’s high schools have special education enrollments of 4 percent to 20 percent, the range required by the Corey H. settlement. The 29 non-special ed schools outside the range will have until 2005 to get there. About 14 percent of Chicago’s 97,000 high school students are special ed students. Some 95 percent of elementary schools already are within the required limits, according to a Catalyst analysis of 1999 data.

Source: Catalyst analysis of data from the Consortium on Chicago School Research

Schools also will be asked to reduce the time that children with disabilities spend outside the regular classroom and, on this score, to come closer to national averages reported each year by the U.S. Department of Education.

Gettleman imposed the targets at the recommendation of a former U.S. Department of Education official, called in by the judge as an expert witness when the state opted for a trial and balked at joining Chicago in the 1998 agreement. The expert, David Rostetter, told Gettleman that the court should impose benchmarks on the state and, thus, on Chicago as a way to help gauge how well schools are meeting the goal of placing children in the “least restrictive environment.”

“If the state had settled along with us, there would be no numbers,” says Gibbons. “There were no numbers in our agreement. Dictating that a certain number of kids should be in a certain environment is actually contrary to what’s in the law.” The 1975 law (called Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act) that sparked the Corey H. suit, “says that as long as you justify a placement, that child may still end up in a self-contained classroom, if that’s what’s appropriate for them.”

CPS approaching inclusion targets

Under benchmarks set by Judge Robert Gettleman, Chicago schools are to reduce the amount of time that disabled children spend outside regular classrooms, to come closer to national averages. Here is where Chicago stands and where the current targets are set. The definitions are based on federal guidelines.

Mainstream: Students spend at least 40 percent of the day in a regular classroom.

Self-contained class: Students spend less than 40 percent of the day in a regular classroom.

Special school: Students attend a school that serves only special education students.

Note: Percentages add to slightly less than 100% because 1-2% of special ed students are enrolled in residential programs, a separate category.

Gibbons and others agree, however, that children won’t be moved solely to meet the targets.

Says Gunnell: “These agreements in no way can be a reason why a child is placed somewhere. That’s not good for children.”

Chicago will focus its efforts on recruiting children into their home schools at kindergarten and 9th grade. “We always will look at natural age breaks,” says Gamm. “We are not going to have wholesale removals of children; obviously we’re not going to do that.”

Recruiting children into high schools may prove easier, says Gibbons, because high schools traditionally need to recruit anyway.

“A lot of it is public relations, reaching out and touching, and looking at admission criteria,” to ensure that disabled children have a fair shot at being admitted, she points out.

Charlotte Desjardins, executive director of the Family Resource Center, says parents need to know they have the right to keep their child in a self-contained classroom or special program if they believe it’s better for them.

Placing children in the least restrictive environment “can mean something different for different children. It depends on the individual education plan,” she says.

“We’ve been getting more calls from parents saying their child has been in a special program, now the school wants to put him in a regular class, and I’m afraid his needs are not being met,” Desjardins says. “Some parents have been told they can’t have their child in a special program. I set them straight and give them a copy of the law.”

No quick turnaround

Given the district’s long history of segregating special-education students, observers say they don’t expect to see the goals of Corey H. achieved quickly.

“It’s like everything else,” says Gamm. “You’ve got a range of schools, and in those with strong leadership, where the school leaders believe in the [inclusion] process and the principal is visible and involved, you’re going to see really good things happen. Our job is to have some minimal consistency in terms of outcomes.”

Rogers, who has been a harsh critic of the Chicago schools, says teachers and administrators have, for the most part, become open to inclusion but need more instruction on how to carry it out. A small minority of teachers, she adds, “still think special education kids are better off apart.”

Rogers also believes the district is still placing too many children in private schools for disabled children instead of making more effort to serve them in the public school.

Still, Rogers says, a new emphasis on excellence “has been good for kids in general. Parents want accommodations if children need it, but they also want a future for their kids.”

Another outside observer says that the Corey H. settlement has finally spurred some schools to take steps they had never considered—for instance, placing students with mild mental disabilities in regular science labs. “It was something that was not even looked at before; it wasn’t even on their radar screen,” the observer points out. “It won’t be paradise in 2005, but it will be a lot better.”