The National Council on Disability (NCD) recently published Charter Schools—Implications for Students with Disabilities, a look at how charter schools are serving children with disabilities. Overall, the report found that while some charters are utilizing innovative programs that produce outstanding outcomes for students with disabilities, not all schools have demonstrated a commitment or ability to serve all students well. The reasons for this are as complex and varied as the myriad laws, regulations, and policies that govern the provision of special education.
This is an important issue in the sector and one where authorizers can have a tremendous impact. We were excited to see the report call for strong, quality authorizing to ensure charter schools are serving all children, including those with disabilities, effectively.
The good news is many of the report’s recommendations for authorizers align with the resources NACSA published last year as part of our Special Education Toolkit.
The NCD recommends authorizers require charter school applicants to describe how they will attract a similar share of students with disabilities as their local school district, and how they will meet those students’ diverse learning needs. Not having a plan for students with disabilities is a potential trigger for intervention in our Rubric for Assessing Special Education in Charter Schools, which also includes additional considerations and best practices for authorizers to evaluate special education enrollment plans.
Once charters schools are operating, NCD recommends authorizers engage in active oversight to ensure schools are accountable for the goals outlined in the charter, as well as their obligations surrounding special education. Monitoring is a crucial aspect of an authorizer’s responsibilities regarding special education, and the report calls for authorizers to collect and analyze disaggregated enrollment, student performance, attrition, and discipline data for students with disabilities. If you’re not sure where to start, a list of considerations is included within our toolkit, such as changes to placement procedures or program adaptions and modifications.
The NCD also recommends including an evaluation of the quality of a school’s special education program in its case for renewal. Key components authorizers should consider during review and renewal are outlined here, such as whether a school has consistently followed its own policies regarding special education, and how well the school has retained students with disabilities.
As an increasing number of students with disabilities choose to attend charter schools, authorizers will continue to play a crucial role improving the education provided to them. The tools referenced above are just a subset of the materials available, which authorizers can start using immediately. The students who need us the most are counting on us to address the widespread inconsistency that exists across the charter sector today.