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Bruno: Two New Reasons To Worry About Charters & SPED

5302562701_0b46f0cc81It was all the way back in June when the GAO reported that charter schools were enrolling disproportionately few students with disabilities. At the time many charter school advocates were eager to dismiss concerns about special education equity on the grounds that charter schools are just better at reclassifying kids out of SPED and shouldn't be expected to serve all groups of students equally anyway.

Two news stories this past week make those defenses look all the more implausible. First, the AP reports on traditional schools straining under the pressure of higher proportions of students with disabilities "as other students increasingly opt for alternatives that aren't always readily open to those requiring special education". This cuts directly against the argument that we shouldn't care whether charter schools enroll students equitably.

Second, Jay Mathews has a good short story on KIPP schools struggling with increasing numbers of students with disabilities. KIPP is refreshingly honest, here, and admits that educating students with special needs is difficult but the responsibility of all educational sectors; they might be doing good work with challenging populations, but they don't make any unjustifiable claims to Mathews about working miracles.

And crucially, KIPP school director Susan Schaeffler admits that there are problems with equitable access, saying, "We need to change the culture of not wanting special needs students to embracing them." Unfortunately, that has not always been the reaction from the charter school sector and its supporters. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

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Good to see one of the biggest, if not the biggest, charters saying they need to get better about enrolling (and serving) students with disabilities. Hopefully they act on that.

I wish we'd also admit that "traditional" public schools aren't doing much better. While some schools enroll a high number of students with alternative needs, those students are often recommended out of general settings and into special programs or special schools to be cordoned off from the rest of their peers. Here in New York City, we have an entire district devoted to keeping "those kids" away from the "general education" population, so while the NYC DOE might have 12 or 14% students with disabilities, the reality is that most schools only have 7 or 8%.

Indeed. I've worked at a place with fairly impressive autism-spectrum and Asperger inclusion programs, but that kind of thing is all too rare across the sectors.

Unfortunately, it’s how things will stay thanks to the principle of “if there’s no legislation against doing things this way, we can do things this way”. Until we start seeing schools face ramifications for exiling special needs students, student equality will not be a reality.

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