Data: NYC Charter Schools Retain More Students with Disabilities

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According to a new report, New York City charter schools are more likely to retain students with disabilities than traditional schools in the same area.

The Independent Budget Office reported 53% of kindergarteners in charter schools who have special needs were in the same school four years later.  That rate dropped to 49% for students in traditional schools.

While critics argue that many charter schools typically push out special needs students in an effort to boost their performance data, the report found that those schools begin with a lower percentage of special needs students than traditional schools do – 8.9% in charter schools compared with 12.7% in traditional schools.

The report began looking at children who entered kindergarten in 2008, and then looked at the same students as they began the fourth grade.  Overall, retention rates at charter schools were higher.  Looking at almost 3,000 students in charter schools, the report found around 64% stayed in the same school four years later.  Meanwhile, of the 7,200 students at traditional schools, 56% stayed put, reports Elizabeth Harris for The New York Times.

According to researchers, repeatedly changing schools can lower student achievement.  A report released last year from IBO which looked at the same group of children found the students who had stayed in the charter school system had higher average test scores than those who had left for a traditional school system.  In addition, the study found the gap between those who stayed and those who changed schools to be much larger for charter schools than the gap found in traditional schools.

A report was released at the same time last week from the United Federation of Teachers arguing that charter schools do not admit and retain students with special needs, writes Leslie Brody for The Wall Street Journal.

A formula was created by the union in an effort to show which schools have more special needs students attending.  The report showed that in 23 of the 25 districts that have kindergarten and K-8 charters, the average charter school had a smaller percentage of special needs students than nearby traditional schools did.  This included children who required a self-contained classroom, English Language learners, and students who live in shelters or temporary housing.

UFT officials would like to see lawmakers require charter schools to give preference to these students, and district superintendents to have the power to fill empty charter seats.

State laws ask charter schools to enroll “comparable” amounts of poor, disabled, and English-language learners as traditional schools do.  If they do not, they face being shut down.

While charter schools accept students by lottery, some do show preference to particular groups, including he New York Center for Autism Charter School.  According to the New York City Charter School Center, 80% of charter school students last year were poor, 16% required individualized education plans for special needs, and 6% were English-language learners.