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.

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