Special ed quotas for charters?

Some propose requiring charter schools to enroll the same percentage of “special needs” students as district schools, notes an Education Next forum.

Charter schools should serve all kinds of students, argues Gary Miron, an education professor at Western Michigan University.  On average, only 8 to 10 percent of charter students are in special education compared to 13.1 percent in district schools. Severely disabled students also are much less likely to attend charter schools.

Some charter schools “counsel out” disabled students, telling parents the school is not a “good fit” for their child.

Charters that recruit and enroll disabled students would receive more funding, making it possible to hire special ed staff that would help all students, he argues. And charters would be taking their “fair share.”

Special ed quotas are a bad idea, responds Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington.

It would create “perverse incentives for schools to overidentify students as disabled.” Some charters work hard to avoid labeling students as “learning disabled” or “emotionally disordered.”

. . . as schools of choice, not all charter schools will be equally attractive to, or effective with, kids with disabilities. A “no excuses” school may be a good fit for students who respond well to a highly structured and very strict culture but not be effective at all for others. Although a school’s “mission” should never be an excuse for a charter school to exclude students whose families feel it is the right fit, we also should not expect that all charter schools will attract an equal number of all types of students.

Disabled students should have access to schools that have the staff and resources to meet their needs, writes Pedro Noguera, professor of education at New York University.  Often, they’re concentrated in low-performing schools that are overwhelmed by students’ needs.

Many high-performing district schools “employ strategies to screen out such students as well, either by not providing the services needed for special education students, or by employing admissions policies that make it difficult or unlikely for such students to gain access.”

Title IX in science: Quotas for men?

In its zeal for gender balance in science, technology engineering and math courses, the Education Department could impose quotas on male STEM students by 2013, warns Hans Bader, who once worked for the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. The White House has promised new Title IX guidelines in STEM fields.

To comply with Title IX, colleges have eliminated men’s sports teams to create a gender balance. “Title IX isn’t just about sports,” President Obama wrote in Newsweek. It’s also about “inequality in math and science education” and “a much broader range of fields, including engineering and technology. I’ve said that women will shape the destiny of this country, and I mean it.”

By the Title IX model in sports, that means if 60 percent of undergrads are women — common in many colleges and universities — then 60 percent of engineering and physics students must be female.

Gender disparities in college majors reflect the “differing preferences of men and women,” writes Bader.

The fact that engineering departments are filled mostly with men does not mean they discriminate against women anymore than the fact that English departments are filled mostly with women proves that English departments discriminate against men. The arts and humanities have well over 60 percent female students, yet no one seems to view that gender disparity as a sign of sexism against men.

Women gravitate to scientific fields that involve interaction with people, writes Bader.

As The New York Times’ John Tierney noted, “Despite supposed obstacles like “unconscious bias” and a shortage of role models and mentors, women now constitute about half of medical students, 60 percent of biology majors, and 70 percent of psychology Ph.D.’s. They earn the majority of doctorates in both the life sciences and the social sciences.” By contrast, “They remain a minority in the physical sciences and engineering,” which deal more with inanimate objects rather than people.

My younger stepdaughter majored in bio-engineering at Cornell, but decided she wanted a career with more human interaction. She’s now a nutritionist, a nearly all-female profession.

It’s hard to believe colleges will be forced to turn away aspiring male engineers because not enough young women could be lured into the field. But perhaps they’ll create new “pink” engineering courses with more talk and less math to create a faux gender balance.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Title IX enforcers to crack down on college English departments.