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CPS Responds To WBEZ Investigation On Special Education

Chicago Public Schools is criticizing a WBEZ investigation on the school district’s overhaul of special education. WBEZ stands firmly behind the quality of its reporting and its conclusions. 

The investigation found that CPS last year scaled back special education funding and services after secretly instituting new rules. WBEZ also found wide disparities in special education spending per student based on race and income. In the year before the overhaul, schools with wealthier student populations spent the most per student while schools with mostly low-income students low-income spent the least.

In a letter to WBEZ, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said the station presented “erroneous information and false conclusions.” He questioned information in WBEZ’s findings around special education staffing levels, reductions in student services, and demographic information on CPS’ special education population.

In our rigorous reporting and analysis, WBEZ relied on CPS data. In addition, most of our analyses and methodologies were vetted by school district officials before publishing. WBEZ listened to their concerns and incorporated them into the analyses. In his letter to WBEZ, Claypool presented different interpretations of the data, even though in some cases his own staff instructed WBEZ not to present the data in that way.   

Claypool’s letter can be found here. You can also examine the underlying data WBEZ relied on  public documents or data obtained through public records requests  and WBEZ’s analyses here. You can also listen to the full, unedited interview with Claypool by WBEZ’s Melba Lara by clicking the “play" button above.

WBEZ published an editor’s note after our first story in response to Claypool’s letter to WBEZ. The note said that CPS disputed  racial and ethnic demographic data on special education students presented in the story, which came from a Better Government Association report. CPS says African-American and Latino boys are over-represented but data presented in the story, which came from a Better Government Association report, show otherwise.

In an interview with WBEZ, the Better Government Association said it stands by its reporting and that CPS has never asked for a correction. The BGA's story ran in January.

In his letter, Claypool said CPS data specifically shows a “dramatic overrepresentation” of African-American and Latino males in special education who are placed in “more restrictive educational environments. … This means that African-American and Latino boys are pulled out of the general education classroom more often.” CPS says this can have “detrimental effects.”

CPS officials also said white boys are not over-represented in special education, as the BGA reported. They said just 5.5 percent of all white males are identified for special education, not 15 percent as the BGA reported. The BGA never issued a correction or a clarification on any aspect of its reporting.

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