Giving Compass' Take:

• Superintendent Nikolai Vitti wants to create separate specialized programs for students with disabilities.  Lauren Morando Rhim, executive director and co-founder of the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools argues that integrating students with disabilities will be more beneficial than creating outside programs for them.

• What the benefits and downfalls of the integration model? What about separate specialized programs? 

• Project SITE in Indianapolis focuses on encouraging students with disabilities to be self-sufficient and independent. Read about their success with this program. 

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti recently announced plans to create new specialized programs for students with disabilities are disconcerting to me, given decades of research demonstrating the benefits of inclusion.

Specifically, Vitti has discussed the possibility of creating specialized programs for students with autism, dyslexia, and hearing impairments. The motivation is twofold: to meet students’ needs and to offer distinct programs that will attract parents who have fled Detroit in search of higher quality schools.

I’ve spent 25 years both studying and actively trying to improve schools for students with disabilities, and I can understand why Vitti’s proposal may have appeal. (I’m now the head of the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools.)

But while the specialized programs might fill a critical need immediately, I have seen the downside of creating such segregated programming.

Once the programs are created, parents will seek them out for appearing to be the better than weak programs in inclusive settings. This will reinforce the belief that segregation is the only way to serve students with learning differences well.

While a small proportion of students with the most significant support needs — typically 2-3 percent of students identified for special education — can benefit from more segregated and restrictive settings, the vast majority of students with disabilities can thrive in inclusive settings.

I would urge him to reconsider his approach in favor of exploring strategies to integrate robust supports and services into existing schools. By integrating, rather than separating, Vitti can ensure that all students have access to the general education curriculum and to teachers with demonstrated subject knowledge.

Read the full article about helping students with disabilities by Lauren Morando Rhim at Chalkbeat