Fighting to retain New York’s cap on charter schools and hit by two different studies (Hoxby and CREDO) showing higher performance for New York City’s charter students, the United Federation of Teachers has issued a “Separate But Equal” report complaining that charters enroll fewer poor, non-fluent and special-education students (and more blacks) than district-run schools.
Urban parents value quality schools more than integrated schools, writes RiShawn Biddle on National Review Online. Blacks, in particular, look to charter schools to provide a better option for their children, even if the local charter is nearly all black.
In Stonewalling Charters, researcher Marcus A. Winters notes that Caroline Hoxby’s study didn’t compare charter students to all district students. It compared apples to apples.
All students who apply for seats in an oversubscribed charter school—which describes nearly every charter in New York City—must enter a lottery for admission. Hoxby’s study compares the achievement of lottery winners and lottery losers. If the pool of applicants is big enough—as is the case in New York City—the laws of probability ensure that the group of students randomly selected to attend a charter school is essentially identical to the group that lost the lottery.
When English Learners and disabled students enter lotteries, they’re as likely to win a place as other students, Winters writes. Apparently, parents of these students are more satisfied with their neighborhood schools or less attracted to charters with a strong academic focus.
The CREDO study used a different methodology, comparing charter students with demographic “twins” in nearby district-run schools. Again it found charter students made greater gains in reading and math compared to similar students.
UFT is pushing charter-crushing “reforms,” writes Thomas Carroll on NY Ed Reform Blog. These include mandatory unionization of charter schools, mandatory payment of union wages on construction contracts (even though the state doesn’t fund construction for charters) and “admissions quotas for charter schools that would mandate that each school enroll at all times exactly the percentage of special-education students, free-lunch students, and English language learners as does the local district average (although no such requirement applies to district schools, whose school-by-school numbers vary widely).”
A small, mission-driven charter school may not serve every type of student equally well. I wrote a book, Our School, about a college-prep charter school that enrolls more than its share of students with “learning disabled” and other special-education labels; students disproportionately come from low-income Mexican immigrant families. Parents of honor roll students are warned that the school is not designed for high achievers’ needs.
In a good school, fewer students fall behind and are classified as “learning disabled.” I worked on a Center on Reinventing Public Education study of special education in charter schools and visited schools that work intensively with kindergarteners to solve learning problems before they become labeled disabilities or transition students out of special education. I’ve also seen intensive instruction move students more quickly out of the English Learner category. I’d hate to see schools required to label students when it’s not necessary.