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Thompson: Charter Schools, "Bad Teachers," & Special Education

War-on-teachersIn Are Charter Schools Better Able to ‘Fire Bad Teachers’?, the Shanker Blog’s Matt DiCarlo provides a valuable discussion regarding the dismissal of teachers.

He starts with a discussion of whether charters serve disproportionately fewer students with disabilities, however, and this post will concentrate on that.  After all, if charters exclude the most difficult-to-educate students, comparisons of their instructional effectiveness with neighborhood schools are just another apples-to-oranges distraction. 

DiCarlo cites research showing that charters serve fewer special education students. I wish he would push that point further because the real questions are whether charters fail to serve larger numbers of students with more serious disabilities and whether they have concentrations of IEP students and others who make it more difficult for schools to raise student performance.

But DiCarlo correctly argues that “there is certainly no evidence for asserting a widespread campaign of exclusion.” I know that many friends will complain when I agree with DiCarlo, but his conclusion conforms with my understanding of the motivations of charter school educators.

In my experience, charters set their standards high because they sincerely believe that that is the best way to do the greater good for the greater number of students. When students leave because they cannot meet those standards, charter teachers see that as a defeat - not a method of making their statistics look better.

Charter school teachers did not create the intense concentrations of poverty that have defied systemic solutions. Whether or not they agree with the political spin, few educators in charter schools have issued false press releases claiming to have improved performance for the "same" students.  If we follow DiCarlo and choose our words carefully and constructively, perhaps charter and regular school teachers can see eye-to-eye on better ways of improving our low-income schools.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via. 

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A "widespread campaign of exclusion" is sort of hard to define.

I know one family who applied to a charter for their child with autism and the charter refused to accept the application -- flat-out refused. The charter reversed the decision after threats (the mom calmly threatened to have the school shut down).

The principal who refused to accept the application is someone I know, and she's a kind, goodhearted person. She presumably just felt the school couldn't handle the student and took advantage of the "freedom from burdensome bureaucratic regulations."

So, multiply that by all the charters that are free from burdensome bureaucratic regulations (like not discriminating). But is that a "widespread campaign of exclusion"? It probably can't be defined that way, but it amounts to the same thing.

This reminds me a bit of the discussion that often arises when privatization is discussed. Those of us raising concerns are taken to task, and accused of supporting "conspiracy theories" about the machinations at work.

I do not want to get drawn into a discussion centered on whether or not the intentions of charter educators are good or bad. I am sure the vast majority of people who are educators of any category are in it because they want to help children.

We may be able to see eye to eye with charter educators about many things, but we have to confront a fundamental problem the sector has. If there are fewer English learners, fewer special ed students in charter schools, and if many of them have higher rates of expulsion and attrition, these things do not happen by accident. There are very real consequences to these choices within these communities. If the Charter schools take and keep higher proportions of well-supported, well-behaved non-special ed, English speaking students, then the traditional public schools are left with the less supported, less well-behaved, more likely to be special ed or English learners.

I have no interest in vilifying teachers at Charter schools, who are not even responsible for these policies. But we have to raise these concerns, because choices are being made, and our public schools are being left with a huge burden and little support.

Anthony,

I don't disagree with anything you say. I think, however, we must go beyond not villifying charter teachers.

Caroline, neither do I disagree. I have taught for most of my career in schools damaged by the unacknowledged creaming or, if they prefer, not creaming but not accepting all students. It would be nice if we could discuss this issue for what it is - high-stakes rule-making in a world where rules are necessary - and then have a rational discussions of how to mend, not end the current regulations. It is hard because so many charter advocates started out by villifying us.

Charter schools that serve fewer students with special needs or fewer students with severe special needs cause a huge vulnerability for the sector. Also, charter schools provide a great opportunity for districts to rethink how to recreate special education delivery.

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