It should be understood that students with disabilities are designated by the committee on special education (CSE) of the school district (or, in New York City, the community school district) where the student resides. Charter schools by law do not have their own CSE, but must work with each students' district CSE and implement its determinations for special education plans for students. Charters implement district CSE plans directly, by contract with a private provider, or by working with school district special education personnel, just as district school would.
On average, charter schools serve a lower percentage of special education students than the districts in which they reside. So do many, if not most, district schools, obviously, since the overall district average would have some schools above it and others below.
The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) has been attacking charter schools for its special education student numbers, especially since they could no longer assert that charter schools didn't perform well academically - state test score data has shown for years that charters far outperform school districts.
The UFT's "solution" for charter schools is to mandate that they serve the same special education percentage as that of the school district in which they are located. This simplistic, soundbite of a proposal from the UFT is unserious and unworkable. The union leadership is not stupid - they know this is impractical, which is one reason they don't demand the same solution for district schools that serve a lower percentage of special education students. Furthermore, the one charter school operated by the UFT in Brooklyn has a special ed percentage (6%) less than half of community school district 19 (12.7%). I don't believe this or any other charter school is doing anything nefarious toward special education students, nor has any evidence been presented to suggest as much.
Realistic Solutions for Increasing Charter Special Education Students
Let's get serious about dealing with the special education issue with realistic policies to increase their numbers in charter schools. For example:
-- Charter schools should be able to contract with boards of cooperative educational services (BOCES), which are set up to serve smaller school districts to provide specialty services for high need students.
--Charter schools should be able to establish special education consortiums to pool resources and serve each others students with special education or English language needs.
--Charter schools also should be able to give an enrollment preference for ELL and special education students, something several has sought to do but were denied by the state Education Department.
Bipartisan legislation has been introduced this week in the Senate that would accomplish some of these objectives (S.6413/A.9485), and more can be done.
A thoughtful article (here) on special education issues in charter schools was published in today's Daily News by Marcus Winters of the Manhattan Institute; and, Thomas Carroll of the New York Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability outlines (here) a list of policies that would increase the special education population in charter schools. Mr. Carroll also is chairman of the two Brighter Choice single-sex elementary schools in Albany.
To borrow a term used frequently by Education Commissioner, David Steiner, and Regents Chancellor, Merryl Tisch; lets get "thoughtful" about addressing the special education issue in charter schools. I believe the charter school community would welcome this discussion and would accept realistic solutions that encourage more special education students to attend charters.
for The Chalkboard
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