Charter schools and special ed

Charter schools enroll fewer special education students than traditional public schools in most states, concludes a GAO study. In 2009-2010, 11 percent of students enrolled in traditional public schools were students with disabilities compared to about 8 percent of students enrolled in charter schools.

While traditional public schools were more likely than charters to report 8 to 12 percent of students had disabilities,  “a higher percentage of charter schools enrolled more than 20 percent of students with disabilities.” Many charter schools “faced challenges serving students with severe disabilities,” the GAO found.

“No single public school is expected to serve students with every single type of disability,” writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. In Montgomery County, Maryland, where he lives, 26 schools have virtually no severely disabled students and another 52 have less than 2 percent. Five schools enroll 40+ percent with severe disabilities.

What Montgomery County is doing—what every school district of any size does—is to create special programs at particular schools that can better meet the needs of students with particular disabilities.

Most charter schools are small. Some contract out for special ed services with the neighboring district. Others form consortia with other charters to share special ed resources. But most parents with a high-needs child will not find superior services at a charter school compared to what their district has to offer.

There are exceptions: I visited two charter schools that were created to educated disabled students in mainstream classrooms. It takes a lot of effort — and extra funding — to do it well. Both charters provided special classes to kindergarteners with developmental delays to prevent a disability diagnosis. Another charter, a middle school, was able to move some learning disabled students out of special ed by getting them caught up academically. I think charter founders should look at designing schools to meet the needs of ADHD and Asperger’s students — and others who could benefit but won’t ever have a disability diagnosis. There’s a niche there.

About Joanne


  1. The 5 MoCo schools that have over 40% of students with severe disabilities are schools specifically for that population. My family used to live there and we had friends whose cognitively handicapped kids attended Rock Terrace HS, where they were successfully prepared to handle full-time employment. (now out of HS for 16 and 21 yrs).

  2. There already are private special ed schools designed for kids with Asperger’s or high-functioning autism. The hard part is getting school districts to agree to pay for sending kids to them. Parents have to pony up big bucks to hire a lawyer and the legal action may or may not be successful. I was just at a presentation last night for parents of kids with autism and a special ed lawyer was one of the presenters. She said that it can cost $50k for parents to pursue a court case. Now if the parents win, some of those legal expenses can be recouped. But that’s a lot of upfront money, especially in this lousy economy.

    • CW: If you are referring to my post, Rock Terrace HS and the other 4 schools are public schools run by MCPS, not private schools. There are also private spec ed schools in the area – I’m not sure if they serve different populations, since I didn’t need to investigate the issue.

      • No, I was responding to this part of Joanne’s post: “I think charter founders should look at designing schools to meet the needs of ADHD and Asperger’s students — and others who could benefit but won’t ever have a disability diagnosis. There’s a niche there.”

        There definitely is a niche for special schools for students with Asperger’s/HFA. I just don’t see a lot of willingness for districts to pony up the money to have students attend them. The districts would rather dump Aspie/HFA kids in regular schools even if that’s not a great environment for them.

        • I think that regular schools are an increasingly unfriendly place for boys in general, especially in ES and spilling over into MS. The groupwork, artsy-crafty and touchy-feely stuff, grading on “participation”, the choices of reading materials and the absence of competition are not popular with most boys – and more than a few girls. It took my DD years to recover her love of reading, after her (female) sixth-grade teacher almost killed it with her insistence on saccharine chick lit.