Charter Schools Dismal at Retaining Special Needs Students, Report Says

By Amy Zimmer on January 10, 2014 6:52am 

 Kindergarteners walk to class at KIPP AMP Elementary School in Crown Heights. The brand new school is one of three charter elementaries opening in Brooklyn's District 17 for fall 2013, making Crown Heights one of the city's most charter-dense neighborhoods. 
Kindergarteners walk to class at KIPP AMP Elementary School in Crown Heights. The brand new school is one of three charter elementaries opening in Brooklyn's District 17 for fall 2013, making Crown Heights one of the city's most charter-dense neighborhoods. 
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DNAinfo/Sonja Sharp

MANHATTAN — Charter schools across the city attracted and retained special education students at a dismal rate, attracting just 25 special education students in 2008, and losing 80 percent of them within three years, according to a report released Thursday by the Independent Budget Office.

Of the 3,000 kindergarteners who attended 53 elementary charter schools across the city in September 2008, just 25 were defined as having special needs— less than 1 percent of the student population, versus 7 percent of the more than 7,000 students the 116 traditional public schools analyzed.

In addition, 80 percent of the charter school students classified as needing special education services transferred out within three years — compared with 50 percent of special needs students at the nearby district schools, the report found.

The transfer rate out of charter schools for non-special education students was a mere 30 percent, compared to 39 percent at public schools, the study found.

"Special education students transfer at a much higher rate than either general education students in charter schools or special education students in traditional public schools," said Joydeep Roy, who authored the report.

The data raises questions as to whether charters are complying with state regulations requiring them to enroll special education students in the same proportion as district schools, charter school critics noted.

"Most of these [charter] schools do not serve children who have special needs, and the majority do not have the services or support to accommodate children with special needs," said Valerie Victoria Williams, a parent of an autistic daughter who sits on the city's community education council for District 75, which serves children needing special services.

Though the report offered no reasons behind the attrition rates for these students, or why fewer of them were in charter schools in the first place, charter foes believe that the schools failed to enroll or keep students with special needs, for fear of hurting test scores. Many parents have complained that charter schools have an incentive to get rid of low-performing students.

The report also found that those who leave charters — which now educate 5 percent of the city's public school students in 150 schools across the city — have lower test scores, particularly for math, than those who stayed.

The data suggest that schools' overall academic performance benefits when these lower scoring students leave, the report said.

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