Friday, September 14, 2012

Charter Schools Skipping Disabled Students?

Here is an article from NPR discussing a trend in Florida of charter schools not enrolling severely disabled students at a rate comparable to that of a traditional public schools. The article states that 86% of Florida's charters do not have these students, and the number is still staggering when factoring in the handful of charters in the large cities that specialize in teaching students with severe disabilities.
Charter schools first developed as an alternative for parents unhappy with their neighborhood school. They are publicly funded but privately run. Charter schools are given the flexibility to try new ideas and hire the staff they want.
According to state law, every student is supposed to have an equal shot at enrollment — including students with disabilities. But students with severe disabilities are not appearing in most charter school classrooms.
StateImpact Florida and The Miami Herald gathered and analyzed data on K-12 students with disabilities from 14 school districts representing more than three-quarters of Florida's total charter enrollment.
The analysis focused on students in the state's two most severe disability categories, which includes some students with autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. It shows:
• More than 86 percent of the charter schools do not serve a single child with a severe disability — compared to more than half of district schools that do.
• In Duval County, just one student enrolled in a charter school has a severe disability. Duval district schools educate more than 1,000 severely disabled students.
• There's not a single child with a severe disability in charter schools in Pinellas County, the nation's 24th-largest school district.
• The majority of charter school students with severe disabilities are concentrated in a handful of schools that specialize in those disabilities, often autism.
The Florida Department of Education, citing privacy concerns, declined to provide statewide data of students with severe disabilities. But the agency said their analysis shows 86 percent of charter schools statewide had no students with severe disabilities.
It's a trend repeated in California, Louisiana, New York and Texas, according to researchers from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Harvard University researcher Thomas Hehir calls it a "pattern of exclusion" among charter schools nationally. Hehir was the top special education official during the Clinton administration and played a leading role in rewriting the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

It appears as though the response of the charter schools is the lack of funding and resources to provide the essential services for these students. I would accept that point if the charter movement was not built on the premise that they can outperform the public schools for less money. I think they are less likely to enroll these students because the schools are all about test scores, and when it's all about the high-stakes test, you cannot do anything that will put the school at risk for not achieving its goals.

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