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Study: Charters Edge Out Neighborhood Schools In Special Education

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As charter schools continue to proliferate across the country, a new study finds that they are offering benefits for students with disabilities.

In a report out this week, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University compared the performance of students at charters with that of students attending traditional public schools in 25 states, the District of Columbia and in New York City. The analysis is an update to a similar report issued in 2009.

Overall, the study finds that charters are improving, particularly when it comes to often-underserved groups like poor and minority students and those with disabilities.

To assess students in special education, researchers compared those attending charters to students at traditional public schools by matching children who started out testing at the same level in order to mitigate the influence of their disability. Then, they looked at standardized test results from the same students years later to determine which schools they fared better in.

While gains in reading were similar for the two groups, the report found that special education students at charters saw greater advances in math, equivalent to 14 extra days of learning.

“The results reveal that the charter school sector is getting better on average and that charter schools are benefiting low-income, disadvantaged and special education students,” said Margaret Raymond, director of the Stanford center that produced the analysis.

The study authors indicated that the gains in recent years could be attributed, at least in part, to the closure of poor-performing charter schools.

In a statement, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, said that the findings show students at charters “roughly perform the same” as those at other schools and indicated that charters are failing to provide “the leaps and bounds that were promised.”

“While any gain in achievement is welcomed, we should use the CREDO findings as an opportunity to pause and ask ourselves why we keep pitting charter schools against neighborhood public schools — a strategy that has created little more than a disruptive churn,” Weingarten said.

Enrollment at charters has ballooned by 80 percent since the 2009 report, with more than 2.3 million American kids now attending over 6,000 schools in 41 states, researchers said.

However, students with disabilities are still less likely to attend charter schools over traditional public schools, according to the analysis. Special education students account for 13 percent of public school students across the country, but represented just 8 percent of the students at charters examined for the report.

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Comments (7 Responses)

  1. vmgillen says:

    I take these reports with more than a grain of salt. Standardized tests do NOT measure much of anything, particularly where spec ed is concerned. A one shot opportunity to prove ability? Feh. Further, unlike public schools, charter can “cherry pick” – and often do. Charter schools are simply another manifestation of “Chicago School” economics applied to education.

  2. soricobob says:

    I guess this survey of disabled in charter schools left out Arizona. Having worked in two different charter schools in Arizona, I can attest to the fact that the schools do not serve the spectrum of disabilities. The highly touted Basis Schools do not either.

  3. Cat says:

    I have both my children in a charter school in San Diego. When the neighborhood school was “talking the talk, but not walking the walk” for my son with special needs, l got my daughter into a charter school. I had not applied for my son bc I assumed they didn’t accept SpEd kids. They inquired after him when her teacher discovered that she had a sibling and encouraged me to transfer him as well. Long story short, both kids are thriving and my once isolated son is welcomed by the whole school community. I have recommended the school to parents of children with disabilities and those who have tried it, love it!

  4. Jusme says:

    I agree with vmgillen and soricobob’s assertions and will add one more, once the cream is skimmed off the top the remaining students with disabilities get booted back to the public schools. Due to a law in this state, the charter gets to keep all the money that came with the child if the child looses placement within a few weeks. What does the law say about this in your state?

  5. Shannon says:

    I can truly say that after working with charter schools, they have a “choice” of which students they accept and most of the students with disabilities that are accepted have SLD and very minor issues. They are not funded to accept students with a range of behavioral and cognitive disabilities. I believe this study to be very skewed – if they use standardized scores, how does this relate to the curriculum taught? Those tests are not aligned to state standards, 21st century skills or world class outcomes which is what our students need.

  6. ebi says:

    There is a huge piece of the puzzle missing here!!! Very few Charter schools have Special Day Classes which educate students with disabilities who may or may not be taking grade level standardized tests and are unable to he fully mainstreamed into a general education classroom. By only serving students who can be fully mainstreamed and may need less intensive services such as RSP or an itinerant these schools scores are highly scewed and cannot be legitimately compared to scores of community schools. We need to compare apples to apples not apples to oranges.

  7. ebi says:

    I wanted to add that I am actually quite dissapointed that disability scoop would put such a misleading title that does not reflect the facts. Charters discriminate against students with disabilities by not being required to have special day classes they are blatantly discriminating against students who require more intesive interventions and have an unfair advantage over traditional schools as far as test schools are concerned.

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