New study suggests charter schools may not systematically under-enroll students with special needs

Nov 21, 2012 by Debra Britt

(Phys.org)—A fresh examination of special education enrollment patterns in New York State suggests that charter schools may be doing better at enrolling students with special needs than many believe.

These findings are relevant for Washington state as policy makers consider how to best implement Initiative 1240 to allow , which appears to have been approved by voters in the most recent election.

The issue of charter schools and special-needs arises in part from a federal report that said, at the national level, charter schools enroll fewer students than schools run by districts.

That may be true when comparing national averages of charter compared with non-charter schools, but new research comparing 's district-run schools with charter schools finds important variations in the enrollment patterns of students with special needs.

"Although certainly some charter schools are not meeting their responsibilities in , our data indicate that the simplest explanation—that charters don't want to serve these kids and are sending them away—is not really a good characterization of the story," said Robin Lake, director at the University of Washington's Center on Reinventing Public Education, which conducted the study.

The new study looked at special education enrollment in individual schools, grade levels, neighborhoods and in the portfolios of schools under different authorizers to present a more accurate picture.

The study uncovered four key findings:

  • At the middle and high school levels, the average enrollment figures are actually higher in charter schools than in district-run schools and the distribution and range are almost indistinguishable.
  • A marked difference in special education student enrollments, however, does appear when charter elementary schools are compared with their district-run counterparts.
  • While some authorizers oversee schools with special needs enrollments that closely track those of nearby district-run schools, other authorizers oversee groups of schools that don't mirror the special education enrollments of their district-run neighbors.
The report demonstrates a need for more research and a better understanding of enrollment data in order to explain the differences uncovered by the analysis, the authors say. Part of the difference in , for example, may be that some district-run schools offer programs that attract more students with special needs.

Charter schools at the elementary level might also be less inclined to label students as needing special education services. This raises a troubling question: are charter schools under-enrolling or under-identifying students with special needs, or are district-run schools over-identifying them?

The authors point out that there likely are access and quality issues that need to be addressed in charter schools, but policy solutions need to recognize the complexity of the issues. For example, the research indicates that setting statewide special education enrollment targets may be less effective than school or regional targets that pay careful attention to those very specific factors that influence such enrollment choices as locations, grade-spans, and neighborhoods. Moreover, explicit efforts to develop charter school programs that better address the needs of special education students might more effectively increase enrollment and improve the quality of service for these students than simply setting a target.

Explore further: Teachers' scare tactics may lead to lower exam scores

More information: Lake, R., Gross, B. and Denice, P. New York State Special Education Enrollment Analysis, available at www.crpe.org.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Charter schools no cure-all for black students, says study

Apr 12, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Despite being promoted as a viable alternative to traditional public schools, privately owned charter schools in Texas have higher attrition rates for black students than comparable urban public schools, says ...

Segregation in charter schools, research shows

Feb 18, 2011

When the charter school system was first proposed and developed two decades ago, it was heralded, in part, as a promising means of achieving classroom diversity. However, the incidence of racial isolation in those schools ...

Recommended for you

Teachers' scare tactics may lead to lower exam scores

1 hour ago

As the school year winds down and final exams loom, teachers may want to avoid reminding students of the bad consequences of failing a test because doing so could lead to lower scores, according to new research published ...

Poll: Big Bang a big question for most Americans

8 hours ago

Few Americans question that smoking causes cancer. But they have more skepticism than confidence in global warming, the age of the Earth and evolution and have the most trouble believing a Big Bang created the universe 13.8 ...

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Apr 18, 2014

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

Apr 17, 2014

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

Apr 17, 2014

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Teachers' scare tactics may lead to lower exam scores

As the school year winds down and final exams loom, teachers may want to avoid reminding students of the bad consequences of failing a test because doing so could lead to lower scores, according to new research published ...

Hyperbolic homogeneous polynomials, oh my!

Cutting-edge mathematics today, at least to the uninitiated, often sounds as if it bears no relation to the arithmetic we all learned in grade school. What do topology and combinatorics and n-dimensional ...

Poll: Big Bang a big question for most Americans

Few Americans question that smoking causes cancer. But they have more skepticism than confidence in global warming, the age of the Earth and evolution and have the most trouble believing a Big Bang created the universe 13.8 ...